Giorgio Totarella

PhD Candidate

Employed since: October 2017
Phone: +31 (0)622736361
Room: 4th floor study area


In the last decades, nanomaterials prepared from ‘Earth-abundant’ metals have attracted considerable attention in the catalytic field. Thanks to their tunable size- and shape-dependent properties, in fact, they represent suitable alternatives to expensive active phase such as platinum group metals. In this context, copper NPs are particularly attractive thanks to copper’s high natural abundance, low-cost and proven high-selectivity in interesting processes of industrial relevance as, for example, the hydrogenation of unsaturated organic substrates.

In this project, we aim to investigate supported copper-based nanoparticles for the selective hydrogenation of conjugated dienes and acetylenic compounds, as computationally they are predicted to be good candidates for noble metal catalyst replacement[1]. These polyunsaturated species, often present in industrial olefin feedstocks (e.g. C3 propylene-rich streams for the production of polypropylene), can in fact lead to undesired parasitic reaction in downstream processes, affecting the final product quality or even representing a process/safety issues. Bearing in mind that other valuable unsaturated substrates are present in the feedstocks in high excess, the selective hydrogenation of polyunsaturated hydrocarbons represents an exciting challenge.

Supported Cu particles of 4-8 nm will be prepared on different supports (i.e. metal oxides as SiO2, Al2O3 and so on)[2]. Building on earlier work in our group on Au[3], the influence of the chemical and physical nature of the support, the particle size and the presence of non-noble metallic co-promoters will be studied. We will use advanced characterization techniques such as XRD, TEM, XPS, and EXAFS. Temperature programmed runs and long-term catalytic tests will be carried out in order to provide a deeper understanding of catalyst activity, selectivity and its stability.

[1] F. Studt et al., Science 320 1320-1322 (2008).
[2] P. Munnik et al., The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 115 14698-14706 (2011).
[3] N. Masoud et al.,  ACS Catal 7 5594-5603 (2017).