For the first time, researchers at TU Wien have successfully observed the operating principle of so-called "promoters" in a catalytic reaction in real-time. These promoters play an important role in technology, but so far there is only limited understanding of how they work.

Catalysts are essential for numerous chemical technologies, ranging from exhaust gas purification to the production of valuable chemicals and energy carriers. Often, tiny traces of additional substances are used alongside catalysts to make them highly effective. These substances are referred to as "promoters." While playing a crucial role in technology, they have been notoriously difficult to study.

In most cases, determining which quantity of promoters has what effects on a has been a trial-and-error process. However, researchers at TU Wien have managed to directly observe the role of lanthanum promoters in hydrogen oxidation.

Using high-tech microscopy methods, they visualized the role of individual La atoms. Their study revealed that two surface areas of the catalyst act as pacemakers, similar to conductors in an orchestra. The plays a vital role in their interaction, controlling the pacemakers. The results of this study have now been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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