Montero, Janine M, Brown, D.R., Gai, Pratibha, Lee, Adam F. and Wilson, Karen (2010) In situ studies of structure–reactivity relations in biodiesel synthesis over nanocrystalline MgO. Chemical Engineering Journal, 161 (3). pp. 332-339. ISSN 1385-8947

High temperature processing of solvothermally synthesised MgO nanoparticles promotes striking changes in their morphology, and surface chemical and electronic structure. As-prepared NanoMgO comprised 4 nm cubic periclase nanocrystals, interspersed within an amorphous Mg(OH)(OCH3) matrix. These crystallites appear predominantly (1 0 0) terminated, and the overall material exhibits carbonate and hydroxyl surface functionalities of predominantly weak/moderate base character. Heating promotes gradual crystallisation and growth of the MgO nanoparticles, and concomitant loss of Mg(OH)(OCH3). In situ DRIFTS confirms the residual precursor and surface carbonate begin to decompose above 300 °C, while in situ XPS shows these morphological changes are accompanied by the disappearance of surface hydroxyl/methoxide species and genesis of O− centres which enhance both the surface density and basicity of the resulting stepped and defective MgO nanocrystals. The catalytic performance in tributyrin transesterification with methanol is directly proportional to the density of strong surface base sites.