Noble metal nanoparticles have been applied to mediate catalytic removal of toxic oxyanions and halogenated hydrocarbons in contaminated water using H2 as a clean and sustainable reductant. However, activity loss by nanoparticle aggregation and difficulty of nanoparticle recovery are two major challenges to widespread technology adoption. Herein, we report the synthesis of a core-shell-structured catalyst with encapsulated Pd nanoparticles and its enhanced catalytic activity in reduction of bromate (BrO3-), a regulated carcinogenic oxyanion produced during drinking water disinfection process, using 1 atm H2 at room temperature. The catalyst material consists of a nonporous silica core decorated with preformed octahedral Pd nanoparticles that were further encapsulated within an ordered mesoporous silica shell (i.e., SiO2@Pd@mSiO2). Well-defined mesopores (2.3 nm) provide a physical barrier to prevent Pd nanoparticle (6 nm) movement, aggregation, and detachment from the support into water. Compared to freely suspended Pd nanoparticles and SiO2@Pd, encapsulation in the mesoporous silica shell significantly enhanced Pd catalytic activity (by a factor of 10) under circumneutral pH conditions that are most relevant to water purification applications. Mechanistic investigation of material surface properties combined with Langmuir-Hinshelwood modeling of kinetic data suggest that mesoporous silica shell enhances activity by promoting BrO3- adsorption near the Pd active sites. The dual function of the mesoporous shell, enhancing Pd catalyst activity and preventing aggregation of active nanoparticles, suggests a promising general strategy of using metal nanoparticle catalysts for water purification and related aqueous-phase applications.
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