The discovery, published in Nature Materials, has immediate relevance to industry for among other things the production of fuels, chemicals for plastics and polymers, and reactions that make molecules for food, medicine and personal care products.

Molecular highways

Xiaodong Zou Foto: Magnus Bergström, Wallenbergstiftelserna
Xiaodong Zou Foto: Magnus Bergström, Wallenbergstiftelserna

To unravel the pore structures of the finned crystals to identify the "molecular highways" that can speed up the mass transportation of molecules in the material, Xiaodong Zou, professor of inorganic and structural chemistry and Taimin Yang at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry at Stockholm University, conducted advanced 3D electron microscopy characterization.

Real applications

The next step will be to extend the new approach to the rational synthesis of other porous catalysts, and apply the materials for real catalytic reactions in industrial processes.


Taimin Yang
Taimin Yang

"Our new approach of building "molecular highways" in porous catalysts could enhance the performance and life time of commercial catalysts, which can make the industrial chemical processes cheaper and faster" says Xiaodong Zou.


This discovery was published in Nature Materials, the leading journal of materials science on August 10 2020, Finned zeolite catalysts.


About the project:

The research project is led by Jeffrey Rimer at the University of Houston, working with a team of international experts in materials synthesis, characterization and modeling to demonstrate the capability of finned zeolites to improve the performance of this unique family of solid catalysts.

Image: 3D finned zeolite catalysts enhance molecule access to the interior of the particle (graphic
Image: 3D finned zeolite catalysts enhance molecule access to the interior of the particle (graphic created by J.C. Palmer).

Reducing barriers

The breakthrough focused on reducing barriers for molecules accessing the interior pores of catalysts, called zeolites – aluminosilicates with pores smaller than a nanometer. One approach to address these transport problems has been to synthesize small nanoparticles. As zeolites become smaller, the amount of surface area exposing the pores increases per amount of catalyst material, which grants increased access for molecules entering the pores. Smaller particles also reduce the internal distance molecules must travel through the particle.