No need for heat: Photon-promoted catalyst activation as an alternative to thermal

Supervisor: Dr Jason Scott and Prof Rose Amal

Abstract: Nano-sized platinum deposits loaded on titanium dioxide have demonstrated catalytic activity for the oxidation of formic acid (and other simple organics) under ambient conditions [1, 2]. Pre-treating the catalyst with UV light has been found to significantly enhance catalytic activity by boosting the formation of active oxygen species which then participate in the reaction. To date, studies have only focussed on aqueous phase reactions. However the real interest lies in gas phase systems as it is expected the research impact will be more significant in this domain via eventual adaptation to, for instance, fuel cells. The proposed study will investigate application of the light pre-treatment phenomenon to the oxidation of carbon monoxide (as a test reaction) in the gas phase. The impact of light pre-treatment conditions (e.g. pre-treatment time, relaxation time, re-illumination) on carbon monoxide oxidation will be evaluated.

Research Environment: The Particles and Catalysis Research Group (PartCat) at UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering specialises in the synthesis, characterisation and application of novel nanomaterials. Lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal, the centre’s research focus on the fundamental understanding of particulate systems and processes, with applications in a broad range of areas, including catalytic and photocatalytic processes, environmental treatment, clean energy production and bio-medicine. Student undertaking this project will work under the guidance of PartCat’s research staff (Dr Jason Scott), in a well-equipped, close-knit and mutually supportive environment. For more information about the centre, please visit its website at

Novelty and Contribution: Pt and other noble metal catalysts are generally activated thermally and using light pre-treatment as the mode of catalyst activation is novel. The proposed research will determine whether light pre-treatment can be effectively adapted to gas-phase systems as well as help understand the manner by which light pre-treatment activates the Pt deposits when loaded on TiO2.

Expected Outcomes: Platinum will be deposited on TiO2 using a deposition/precipitation approach. The Pt deposits will be characterised for morphology (Transmission Electron Microscopy), oxidation state (X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy) and metal loading (Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry). Catalyst activity will be assessed for carbon monoxide oxidation with the effect of light pre-treatment being considered. Relationships between light pre-treatment conditions, Pt deposit characteristics and catalytic activity will be established. The student undertaking this project will receive training in particle synthesis, characterisation, catalytic activity testing, scientific data analysis and reporting, including research publications in the form of poster presentation and journal manuscripts. For more information, contact Prof Rose Amal

NOTE: possibility to continue project for THESIS A

Reference Material Links:

[1] Scott, J., Irawaty, W., Low, G., Amal, R., Enhancing the catalytic oxidation capacity of Pt/TiO2, using a light pre-treatment approach, Appl. Catal. B: Environ., 164, 10-17 (2015)

[2] Denny, F., Scott, J., Chiang, K., Teoh, W.Y., Amal, R., Insight towards the role of platinum in the photocatalytic mineralisation of organic compounds, J. Molec. Catal. A: Chem., 263(1-2), 93-102 (2007).