Biopolymer Supports for Metal Nanoparticles in Catalytic Applications

  • Rebecca Bamford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Silver nanoparticles (sub 10 nm), supported on, or in, cellulose, have been demonstrated to be well stabilised and immobilised during application in a model continuous reaction: the reduction of 4-nitrophenol (4-NP) to 4-aminophenol with sodium borohydride. The production of these silver nanoparticles (NP), within the cellulose supports, was carried out by either in situ reduction of silver precursors absorbed into the preformed cellulose supports, or, by inclusion of ex situ synthesised NPs (prepared in DMSO solutions) in the dissolution of cellulose and trapping upon subsequent coagulation of cellulose. The effects of NP synthesis method (affecting particle size and agglomeration) and the cellulose morphology and porous structure were examined with respect to the catalytic activity of the materials.The in situ reduction of a silver salt with aqueous NaBH4 solutions (0.03 to 1.0 wt. %) led to tuneable Ag NP sizes with mean diameters of 5 to 11 nm (TEM) and metal loadings of 0.5-1.0 wt. %. The catalytic activity of these samples in the 4-NP reduction reaction (0.05 mM, 0.167 M NaBH4, 30 °C) was demonstrated to increase upon decreasing NP size: TOF values of 22–356 h-1, consistent with a Langmuir-Hinshelwood mechanism. The porous structure of these Ag-cellulose materials (0.2 to 294 m2 g-1) was demonstrated to be variable and dependent on drying treatments of the regenerated cellulose hydrogel. Thermal drying, freeze-drying and critical point drying resulted in materials with different bulk structure and porosity. In turn the different porosities resulted in extremely different catalyst activities, e.g. Ag-cellulose catalyst (0.3 mm disks) thin film, hydrogel and cryogel phases exhibited TOF values of 2, 12 and 178 h-1, respectively. In addition, the NP synthesis could be carried out in either the cellulose hydrogel or cryogel, which led to different extents of Ag NP catalyst stabilisation against agglomeration during the 4-NP reaction and catalyst recovery and recycling. The Ag NPs synthesised in the cryogel cellulose disks were observed to undergo agglomeration (TEM) after use in 4 repeat batch reductions, whilst those NPs synthesised in the hydrogel cellulose, prior to freeze-drying to the final cryogel catalyst material, did not exhibit any agglomeration upon 4 repeat reduction reactions.The ex situ reduction of Ag and Au NPs was carried out by the reduction of AgOAc and Au(OAc)3 by DMSO and variation of the NP synthesis parameters, such as time (10 min – 1h) and temperature (50 – 80 °C), allowed for control of the NP sizes (3 to 6 nm Ag NPs and 4 to 11 nm Au NPs, TEM). It was demonstrated that the addition of the polysaccharide starch (0.42 wt. % in DMSO) allowed for consistent Ag NP size (ca. 4 nm) to be achieved throughout the 8 h synthesis, the starch acting as both the reducing and capping agent, maintaining the small sizes and narrow particle size distributions of the NPs upon aging (72 h). A kinetic model with a bimolecular nucleation step was developed to describe this reduction of the silver acetate by the starch/DMSO system. However, contact of the NPs with solutions of imidazolium ILs, 1-Ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate (EmimOAc) and 1-Butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride (BmimCl) in DMSO, used in the dissolution of cellulose, led to the oxidation of the Ag(0) and Au(0) NPs. Thus, when these NP solutions were mixed in cellulose solutions regeneration by phase inversion with the aim of preparing cellulose/NP composites led to materials with negligible metal loadings (AAS). This oxidation, of the metal NPS, was partially overcome by stabilisation of the starch capped Ag NPs by pre-treatment with cellulose (1:1 mixture of α and MC cellulose). However, the activity of the resulting Ag-cellulose catalyst (0.5 wt. % AAS, 6.7 nm TEM) was much lower than the Ag-cellulose catalysts prepared by in situ reduction of silver in the cellulose hydrogel, despite the comparable NP sizes. This was presumed to be a result of encapsulation of the Ag NPs by the cellulose, leading to a decrease in the accessible surface of the NPs.Finally, the use of Ag NP / cellulose composites, prepared by in situ reduction of silver in cellulose hydrogel beads (0.19 wt. %, 6.4 nm), were demonstrated in the continuous reduction of 4-NP in a packed bed reactor (τ’ 100 g s dm-3). The activation energies of the reactions of 4-NP catalysed by the Ag-cellulose catalyst materials were determined (3.2 to 9.4 kJ mol-1) from Arrhenius plots, which demonstrated that above 20 °C the reaction was likely subject to diffusion limitations in the cellulose beads. The high degree of stabilisation of the Ag NPs against agglomeration imparted by the cellulose support was demonstrated: the rate of reaction was observed to be constant over 120 h, treating 45 L of 4-NP solution, with the catalyst material after use demonstrating no significant leaching of silver, or agglomeration, of NPs (AAS, TEM).
Date of Award24 Jul 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorLaura Torrente Murciano (Supervisor) & Janet Scott (Supervisor)


  • Nanoparticle
  • Catalysis
  • Cellulose
  • Silver
  • Ionic Liquids

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