Ethanol Dehydration over Hybrid Mesoporous Aluminosilicate Catalysts Obtained in One Pot by Non-Hydrolytic Sol-Gel

Ethanol dehydration is effectively catalyzed by solid acids, such as HZSM-5, alumina, or silica-alumina. In these catalysts, the amount, nature, and strength of acid sites is believed to determine catalyst activity and stability. However, surface hydrophilicity or hydrophobicity can be suggested as another decisive catalyst property that can directly influence performance. For example, a more hydrophobic surface might be beneficial in repelling the co-product of the reaction, water. However, these aspects have been studied only scarcely in the context of alcohol dehydration. Here, a series of mesoporous hybrid aluminosilicate catalysts containing CH3Si groups was prepared in one pot by non-hydrolytic sol-gel (NHSG). The presence of the methyl groups was verified by IR, solid-state NMR, and ToF-SIMS. Aluminum is mostly incorporated in tetrahedral coordination in the hybrid silica matrix. Two parameters were varied: (i) the Si:Al ratio and (ii) the Si:MeSi ratio. On the one hand, changing the Si:Al ratio had a marked impact on hydrophilicity, as attested by water sorption measurements. On the other hand, unexpectedly, the introduction of methyl groups had no clear influence on sample hydrophilicity. Nevertheless, some of the methylated aluminosilicate catalysts markedly outperformed the purely inorganic catalysts and a commercial silica-alumina benchmark. While a direct influence of surface hydrophilicity or hydrophobicity could be excluded, characterization of acidity (IR-pyridine) revealed that these improved performances are correlated with a modification of the acidic properties in the hybrid catalysts caused by the presence of methyl groups. A decisive role of acidity in ethanol dehydration was confirmed by an experiment with delayed addition of the Al precursor in the NHSG synthesis. This led to a higher Al surface concentration, marked acid sites number increase, and better catalytic performance, even competing with HZSM-5 in terms of activity.