Heterogeneous catalysts have proven remarkably successful in catalysing a wide range of important processes, in fuel-cells, exhaust emission control and in hydrocarbon processing. However, the effects of the operating environment on the surface composition, structure and stability of the noble metal catalysts that are often employed in alloy form are poorly understood at the atomic-scale. This knowledge will be required to produce the improved catalysts needed for future energy- and materials-efficient technologies.
Atom probe tomography (APT) offers a unique method for studying these materials, offering atomic-scale chemical identities of the catalyst surfaces and chemisorbed species. We have used APT to show a rich variety of behaviour in Pt-based alloys, investigating the effects of high temperature/pressure oxidation. These reveal pronounced surface segregation behaviour, strongly dependent on the treatment conditions, crystallographic plane and alloy composition. Recent work has combined APT with other high resolution characterization techniques to invesitgate early stages of oxidation in ternary alloys gauzes.