Insights from industry

Characterization of Catalyst Nanoparticles

insights from industryDr. Wu MinBusiness Development ManagerThermo Fisher Scientific - EM Solutions

In this interview, AZoM talks to Dr, Min Wu, business development manager for Thermo Fisher Scientific, about the instrumentation used for the characterization of catalyst nanoparticles.

Please could you give our readers an overview of Thermo Fisher and the solutions you provide?

Thermo Fisher Scientific is a leading international corporation serving science. The EM department is part of our MSD (Materials & Structural Analysis) division. We provide a spectrum of electron microscopes such as microCT, SEM (scanning electron microscope), SDB (small dual beam) in another common term SEM-FIB (focused ion beam) and TEM (transmission electron microscope) for Materials Science, Semiconductor and Lift Science, both in academia and industry. Apart from the instrumentation, we also provide whole workflows and solutions for specific applications.

Could you explain to our readers how imaging of catalyst nanoparticles works?

We can image catalyst nanoparticles and catalyst carriers in various electron microscopes. In SEM we use a focused electron beam to scan across the sample surface, the electrons and materials will interact and generate various signals. We collect signals such as secondary electrons or backscattered electrons to retrieve the sample surface information. In TEM we also use a focused electron beam and the electrons will travel through the sample and interact with the bulk, and we collect the transmitted electrons to form images. In general, using different kinds of signals we can extract very different information of the catalyst nanoparticle samples, such as their general morphology and composition. 

What are the main applications that your customers use a catalyst for?

Catalysis is a very important aspect of modern industry, probably 90% of it is catalysis related. It is a process where we can increase the rate of chemical reactions by adding substances known as catalysts. Our customers use catalysts for all kinds of purposes, such as purifying the exhausted gases coming from automobile, or synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, producing polymer materials from petroleum refining, generating hydrogen, enhancing photocatalysis process, or in fuel cells (relying on catalysts for both the anodic and cathodic reactions), in food processing (using biocatalysis process), etc. all kinds of chemical processes. 

What instrumentation does Thermo Fisher offer for the characterization of catalyst nanoparticles?

Thermo Fisher offers its SEM, SDB, and TEM products for the characterization of catalyst nanoparticles. But if the nanoparticles are in such a small size as below 10nm, we recommend using TEM for the characterization because of the high-resolution TEM provides. 

What are some of the most common challenges your customers face when trying to gain statistically relevant catalyst nanoparticle results?

The number of catalyst nanoparticles characterized. For example, in a lot of use cases, our customers need the microscopic information (morphology, size, shape, and chemical composition) of at least 500 nanoparticles to achieve statistical relevance. Manually they can analyze approximately 30 nanoparticles per day and it is a very tedious process. 

Customer needs: acquire statistically relevant, meaningful, high resolution and precision data of catalyst nanoparticles on a very large heterogeneous area of carriers (>500 nanoparticles to a few thousand) in a short time, including morphology and chemical, structure information such as nanoparticle size, shape, distribution (context), chemical composition, etc. 

What are the features of Thermo Fisher’s automated workflow?

The APW (automated nanoparticle workflow) as its name suggests, is a unique large-area high-resolution image acquisition and on-the-fly data analysis workflow which combines the usage of MAPS, Velox, and Avizo software. APW has a unique total optimized solution that takes care of the acquisition and on-the-fly processing in a fully automated, unattended way including the TEM/STEM imaging and XEDS spectroscopy modalities. It provides statistically relevant information on the nanoscale and increases the precision of the data through automation. In the process, no TEM expert is needed, and it is as easy as a coffee machine. It enables faster turnover for all samples, achieves lower cost per measurement through the unattended repeatable process, and revolutionize product development via robust and faster screening of new materials.  

How does this benefit customers and increase the efficiency of catalysis?

The APW is an automated workflow, so it sets to free customers from manual time consuming and tedious catalyst nanoparticle analysis. So our customers would have more time to do research related work and characterize more materials with higher statistics, higher precision, APW helps faster ramp-up for new products and higher yield through faster quality assessment and quality control, these all potentially help create catalysts with higher efficiency. 

What’s next for Thermo Fisher Electron Microscopy?

We will keep our leading positions in innovation and manufacture high-end EM tools but also manufacture entry-level easy to use, highly automated EM tools, and workflow, to provide our customers modern and comprehensive EM solutions. 

About Dr. Min Wu

Dr. Min WuDr. Min Wu works as a business development manager focusing on polymer, chemistry, and catalyst industrial applications. Her goal is to understand the industrial analysis needs and incorporate with ThermoFisher’s microscopic solutions, aiming at solving challenging characterization needs for polymer/chemistry/catalyst industry. She was educated as a materials scientist and microscopist from the University of Oxford (Ph.D. degree) and previously worked as SEM (scanning electron microscope)/SDB (small dual beam) application engineer in product development for ThermoFisher Scientific.

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