Zeolites are crucial for numerous industries, such as refinery and upgrading of fossil or renewable resources, catalysis and separation, but also in newly emerging fields like water purification and desalination, (nuclear) waste management and as solar thermal collectors. Zeolites are sophisticated inorganic solids produced on industrial scale via the hydrothermal gel method. For investigating the mechanism of zeolite formation however gels are rather inconvenient. To overcome this problem zeolite synthesis from solution has been developed. The crystallisation of Silicalite-1 zeolite from clear solution is a well-known model system for investigating the growth mechanism. A consistent model for zeolite formation is however not yet formulated. In particular the early stages of formation remain elusive.
The goal of this project is to establish new methods to observe and control the formation of synthetic zeolites. Chemical microreactors will be equipped with electrode structures to generate electric fields. The hypothesis is that the emerging zeolite crystals react differently in each stage of the growth process. Most interesting are long ranged electrostatic or hydrodynamic forces leading to collective behavior. Acoustic methods for manipulating the zeolite particles in solution will applied as well. The combination with optical and X-ray scattering will lead to a better understanding of the whole synthesis process and pave the way for zeolites tailored for specific applications. These methods will be advantageous to all kinds of phase transitions in liquids.