Solid acid catalysts are important for many petrochemical processes. The ensemble methods most often employed to characterize acid site properties in catalyst materials provide limited insights into their heterogeneity. Single-molecule (SM) fluorescence spectroscopic methods provide a valuable route to probing the properties of individual microenvironments. In this work, dual-color SM methods are adopted to study acidity distributions in mesoporous aluminosilicate (Al-Si) films prepared by the sol-gel method. The highly fluorescent pH-sensitive dye C-SNARF-1 was employed as a probe. The ratio of C-SNARF-1 emission in two bands centered at 580 and 640 nm provides an effective means to sense the pH of bulk solutions. In mesoporous thin films, SM emission data provide a measure of the effective pH of the microenvironment in which each molecule resides. SM emission data were obtained from mesoporous Al-Si films as a function of Al2O3 content for films ranging from 0% to 30% alumina. Histograms of the emission ratio reveal a broad distribution of acidity properties, with the film microenvironments becoming more acidic, on average, as the alumina content of the films increases. This work provides new insights into the distribution of Brnsted acidity in solid acids that cannot be obtained by conventional means.
Sun, Xiaojiao, Jingyi Xie, Jiayi Xu, Daniel A. Higgins, Keith L. Hohn