Mechanochemistry, mechanocatalysis, graphene, mixed metal oxides, nanomaterials


Traditional methods of synthesizing inorganic materials, such as hydrothermal, sol-gel, calcination and grinding steps, can typically require use of high temperatures, expensive precursors or use of solvents. Because of the energy-intensive nature or environmental impact these techniques, there is a push, especially from an industrial perspective, to move towards greener approaches. Mechanochemistry is a solvent-free alternative technique that can be used to synthesize a variety of materials under ambient conditions. Due to this, there is an increase in attention towards the use of this approach in both solid-state inorganic and organic chemistry. This dissertation reports the mechanochemical synthesis of a few inorganic materials without the need of using high temperatures or solvents. Additionally, examples are presented in which mechanochemistry is used in conjunction with a secondary technique. This mechanical activation of the precursors lead to a decrease in calcination temperature and reactions times, as well as alteration of properties or unique reaction products. The synthesis of kaolinite, vanadia nanostructures, and spinels were carried out in this fashion. Mechanical activation of the precursors allowed for reduced hydrothermal treatment times in case of both kaolinite and vanadia nanostructures and the spinels are calcined at lower temperature for shorter periods of time. In addition, we report alternative template agents than previously reported for the formation of vanadia nanotubes, and report the formation of nanorods. Choosing the appropriate amine template can alter the structure and size of the material. Isomorphously substituted mixed oxides, kaolinite and spinels (MgAl2O4 and ZnAl2O4) were synthesized through a mechanically assisted process. Kaolinites are treated hydrothermally iv for 1 week at 250 ºC to produce an X-ray pure crystalline material. The spinels undergo calcination as low as 500 ºC to produce a nanocrystalline material. Rare-earth metals and transition metals were used as the substitutional atom. The substituted kaolinites exhibit strong order along the c axis, but less ordering along the a and b axes. Trivalent chromium and trivalent rare-earth metals, such as La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Eu, Gd, Ho, and Er, are used to replace aluminum in the structure. Likewise, divalent and trivalent transition, such as Mn, Ni, Cu and Cr, are used as the substitutional atoms in MgAl2O4 and ZnAl2O4. Cathodoluminescence studies on the substituted Spinel structure show that Mn 2+ ions can occupy both the tetrahedral or octahedral holes to give a green and red emission, respectively. On the other hand, Cr3+ ions only occupy the octahedral holes to yield a red emission, similar to that in ruby. These isomorphously substituted materials may have potential applications in catalysis or glaze materials in ceramics. Oxidized graphite, an alternative to graphite oxide and graphene, can be synthesized rapidly by mechanochemical means. Grinding urea hydrogen peroxide adduct with graphite without the need of a solvent produces a product with an oxygen content of 5-15 wt%. The byproducts of this reaction are urea and water. This material is oxidized along the edges of the sheets, allowing it to be hydrophilic while retaining the conductivity. The material can suspend in water and processing allows for films of resistivities between 50 Ω cm-2 and 10 kΩ cm-2 . It was determined that the edges are fully oxidized to yield –COOH groups. This process offers a scalable, environmentally benign route to large quantities of oxidized graphite. An alternative method for the synthesis of nanostructured vanadia is reported. This process involves mechanical grinding of vanadium pentoxide, V2O5, with an amine template, v such as diphenylamine, theophylline, rhodamine 6G and rhodamine, prior to hydrothermal treatment. This allows for the synthesis of VOx nanotubes and nanorods dependent on which template is used. Diphenylamine, theophylline, and rhodamine B produce nanorods. Use of rhodamine 6G produces asymmetric VOx nanorods. In addition to the mixed metals oxides mentioned above, sodium and calcium tantalates are synthesized mechanically. This route does not require the need of elevated temperatures or expensive and hazardous materials. X-ray diffraction analysis of NaTaO3, Ca2Ta2O7, Ca4Ta2O9 and CaTa2O6 shows that these are the only phases detected after 4 h, 10 h, 27 h and 10 h of milling, respectively. During the synthesis of Ca2Ta2O7, an intermediate phase, Ca4Ta2O9, forms within 1 h, which reacts after 5 h to form the desired product. Reference Intensity Ratio analysis shows that the material synthesized mechanically is nanocrystalline Ca2Ta2O7. Nanocrystalline ZrSi2 can also be obtained through mechanochemical synthesis. This method allows for size control and results in crystallites ranging from 9 to 30 nm. Dilution with CaCl2 enables the size control process. A linear relationship exists between the concentration of CaCl2 and the crystallite size. Contrary to a typical self-propagating metathesis reaction, this process does not allow for self-propagation and requires continuous input of mechanical energy to continue. However, this method allows for non-passivated nanoparticles of ZrSi2, which can be incorporated into composites as a reinforcement material for several applications. Hard and ultra-compressible borides, such as ReB2 and OsB2, can be synthesized mechanically. The traditional synthesis of ReB2 requires excess boron due to treatment at high temperatures. This can lead to amorphous boron aggregating at the grain boundaries, which in vi turn, this would degrade the properties of the material. The mechanochemical approach requires mechanical treatment of Re and B powders in stoichiometric quantities for 80 h. Mechanical synthesis of OsB2 powders requires a 1:3 ratio of Os and B powders. After 12 h of milling time, h-OsB2 begins to form, and is the major phase present after 18 h. The lattice parameters corresponding to the hexagonal OsB2 were determined to be a = b = 2.9047 Å, c = 7.4500 Å, α = β = 90º, γ = 120º. Treatment of the OsB2 powder at 1050 ºC under vacuum for 6 days did not induce a phase change, suggesting the hexagonal phase is very stable. Mechanocatalysis of the depolymerization of cellulose and hydrogenation of olefins over BN are reported as well. Heterogeneous catalysis is difficult to apply to solids, such as cellulose. However, mechanical grinding of kaolin and cellulose allows for the catalysis to occur in the solid state. This process allows for a variety of different biomasses to be used as feedstock without inhibition. Kaolinite was found to be the best acid catalyst due to high surface acidity and its layered structure, allowing for up to 84% conversion of the cellulose to water-soluble compounds. This process allows for reduction of waste, insensitivity of feedstock, multiple product pathways and scalability. Hydrogenation reactions are carried out using transition-metals catalysts. These metals have desirable catalytic properties not seen in main group elements, but there is growing concern over their use. A metal-free heterogeneous hydrogenation catalyst based on frustrated Lewis pairs would significantly reduce the health, environmental, and economic concerns associated with these metal-based catalysts. We report the first metal-free heterogeneous hydrogenation catalyst. Hydrogenation of trans-cinnamic acid is carried out over defect-laden h-BN. The vii reactor we use is designed to maximize the defects produced in BN sheets. The introduction of defects in BN creates frustrated Lewis pairs. DFT calculations show that the carbon double bond is weakened over boron substitution for nitrogen sites, vacancies of both boron and nitrogen, and Stone-Wales defects. A new method for crystalline germanium deposition occurring at lower temperatures (210-260 ºC) is reported. This method involves mechanical treatment of the precursors to reduce the particle size. A ground mixture of Ge and CuI are heated under vacuum to synthesize GeI2. In situ disproportionation of this compound at 210 ºC allows for the deposition of polycrystalline Ge films onto a both glass and polymer substrates. The rate of deposition is found to be 25 ng min-1 . The byproducts of this process are GeI2, GeI4 and Cu3Ge, which are valuable precursors for the synthesis of germanium nanostructures and organogermanium compounds. Mechanochemistry is also utilized for the synthesis of trisubstituted pnictides. Mechanochemical treatment of bromobenzene with either Na3Sb or Na3Bi allows for the formation of triphenylstibine or triphenylbismuthine, respectively. The synthesis of the alkali metals pnictide precursors is reported as well. The synthesis of triphenylstibine produces SbPh3 as the major product from the reaction. The synthesis of triphenylbismuthine produces more Wurtz-type coupling products, which are due to the BiPh3 acting as a catalyst. Tributyl and triphenyl analogues are reported as well. The trialkylated analogues for both Sb and Bi produce more Wurtz type coupling products. This would allow for a more cost effective and scalable, alternative methods than what is currently in use today


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Graduation Date





Blair, Richard


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

May 2014

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

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