Locating a catalyst and reactants in confined spaces makes catalytic reactions go faster in the desired direction. Of course, the reaction products have to be removed from the confined spaces and researchers have developed a new approach to expelling aqueous reaction products. This works for confinement in nanometer-sized pores in silica particles. By lining the insides of the pores with both catalysts and a fluorinated chemical, like that found in Teflon®, reactions with water as a byproduct proceed much faster. This works because certain chemicals just don’t like each other. Oil and water tend to separate. Water on a Teflon®-coated frying pan balls up to minimize its contact with the Teflon®. Combining state-of-the-art characterization and theory, a structure was designed to maximize this effect inside the catalytic pores. The performance of this catalyst surpasses the commercially available ones for a reaction known as esterification, that yields water as a byproduct. This is the first demonstration of enhancing chemical transformations by expelling the byproducts from porous catalytic materials in this manner and just the beginning of essentially a new class of catalysts.
Rational Catalyst Design: A Multifunctional Mesoporous Silica Catalyst for Shifting the Reaction Equilibrium by Removal of Byproduct