The potential of atomic XAFS (AXAFS) to directly probe the catalytic performances of a set of supported metal oxide catalysts has been explored for the first time. For this purpose, a series of 1 wt % supported vanadium oxide catalysts have been prepared differing in their oxidic support material (SiO2, Al2O3, Nb2O5, and ZrO2). Previous characterization results have shown that these catalysts contain the same molecular structure on all supports, i.e., a monomeric VO4 species. It was found that the catalytic activity for the selective oxidation of methanol to formaldehyde and the oxidative dehydrogenation of propane to propene increases in the order SiO2 <Al2O3 <Nb2O5 <ZrO2. The opposite trend was observed for the dehydrogenation of propane to propene in the absence of oxygen. Interestingly, the intensity of the Fourier transform AXAFS peak decreases in the same order. This can be interpreted by an increase in the binding energy of the vanadium valence orbitals when the ionicity of the support (increasing electron charge on the support oxygen atoms) increases. Moreover, detailed EXAFS analysis shows a systematic decrease of the V-Ob(-Msupport) and an increase of a the V-O(H) bond length, when going from SiO2 to ZrO2. This implies a more reactive OH group for ZrO2, in line with the catalytic data. These results show that the electronic structure and consequently the catalytic behavior of the VO4 cluster depend on the ionicity of the support oxide. These results demonstrate that AXAFS spectroscopy can be used to understand and predict the catalytic performances of supported metal oxide catalysts. Furthermore, it enables the user to gather quantitative insight in metal oxide support interactions
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