The burgeoning field of nanoscience has stimulated an intense interest in properties that depend on particle size. For transition metal particles, one important property that depends on size is catalytic reactivity, in which bonds are broken or formed on the surface of the particles. Decreased particle size may increase, decrease, or have no effect on the reaction rates of a given catalytic system. This Account formulates a molecular theory of the structure sensitivity of catalytic reactions based on the computed activation energies of corresponding elementary reaction steps on transition metal surfaces. Recent progress in computational catalysis, surface science, and nanochemistry has significantly improved our theoretical understanding of particle-dependent reactivity changes in heterogeneous catalytic systems. Reactions that involve the cleavage or formation of molecular ?-bonds, as in CO or N2, must be distinguished from reactions that involve the activation of ?-bonds, such as CH bonds in methane. The activation of molecular ?-bonds requires a reaction center with a unique configuration of several metal atoms and step-edge sites, which can physically not be present on transition metal particles less than 2 nm. This is called class I surface sensitivity, and the rate of reaction will sharply decrease when particle size decreases below a critical size. The activation of ? chemical bonds, in which the activation proceeds at a single metal atom, displays a markedly different size relationship. In this case, the dependence of reaction rate on coordinative unsaturation of reactive surface atoms is large in the forward direction of the reaction, but the activation energy of the reverse recombination reaction will not change. Dissociative adsorption with cleavage of a CH bond is strongly affected by the presence of surface atoms at the particle edges. This is class II surface sensitivity, and the rate will increase with decreasing particle size. Reverse reactions such as hydrogenation typically show particle-size-independent behavior. The rate-limiting step for these class III reactions is the recombination of an adsorbed hydrogen atom with the surface alkyl intermediate and the formation of a ?-type bond. Herein is our molecular theory explaining the three classes of structure sensitivity. We describe how reactions with rates that are independent of particle size and reactions with a positive correlation between size and rate are in fact complementary phenomena. The elucidation of a complete theory explaining the size dependence of transition metal catalysts will assist in the rational design of new catalytic systems and accelerate the evolution of the field of nanotechnology.
Rutger A. Van Santen
Schuit Institute of Catalysis, Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis, P.O Box 513, 5600 MB Eindhoven, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands