Siril, P.F., Shiju, N.R., Brown, D.R. and Wilson, K. (2009) Optimising Catalytic Properties of Supported Sulfonic Acid Catalysts. Applied Catalysis A General, 364 (1-2). pp. 95-100. ISSN 0926-860X

Siliceous mesoporous molecular sieves (SBA-15) have been functionalised with propylsulfonic acid groups by both co-condensing 3-mercaptopropyltrimethoxysilane with the solid at the synthesis (sol–gel) stage and by grafting the same compound to pre-prepared SBA-15, followed, in both cases, by oxidation to sulfonic acid. The acidic and catalytic properties of the supported sulfonic acids prepared in the two ways have been compared, using ammonia adsorption calorimetry and the benzylation reaction between benzyl alcohol and toluene. Using a combination of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and other analytical techniques, the level of functionalisation and the extent of subsequent oxidation of tethered thiol to sulfonic acid, both in the bulk and close to the surface of SBA-15 particles, have been assessed. The research shows that the co-condensing route leads to higher levels of functionalisation than the grafting route. The extent of oxidation of added thiol to acid groups is similar using the two routes, about 70% near the surface and only 50% in the bulk. Comparison is made with polymer supported sulfonic acid catalysts, Amberlysts 15 and 35, and Nafion. Nafion shows the highest acid strength and the highest specific catalytic activity of all materials studied. Amongst the other materials, average acid strengths are broadly similar but there appears to be a relationship between the concentration of acid sites on the catalysts and their specific activity in the benzylation reaction. A model is proposed to explain this, in which clustering of sulfonic acid groups, even to a small extent, leads to disproportionately enhanced catalytic activity.

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