Confocal fluorescence microscopy was employed to selectively visualize the dispersion and orientation of zeolite ZSM-5 domains inside a single industrially applied fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) catalyst particle. Large ZSM-5 crystals served as a model system together with the acid-catalyzed fluorostyrene oligomerization reaction to study the interaction of plane-polarized light with these anisotropic zeolite crystals. The distinction between zeolite and binder material, such as alumina, silica, and clay, within an individual FCC particle was achieved by utilizing the anisotropic nature of emitted fluorescence light arising from the entrapped fluorostyrene-derived carbocations inside the zeolite channels. This characterization approach provides a non-invasive way for post-synthesis characterization of an individual FCC catalyst particle in which the size, distribution, orientation, and amount of zeolite ZSM-5 aggregates can be determined. It was found that the amount of detected fluorescence light originating from the stained ZSM-5 aggregates corresponds to about 15wt%. Furthermore, a statistical analysis of the emitted fluorescence light indicated that a large number of the ZSM-5 domains appeared in small sizes of about 0.015-0.25m(2), representing single zeolite crystallites or small aggregates thereof. This observation illustrated a fairly high degree of zeolite dispersion within the FCC binder material. However, the highest amount of crystalline material was aggregated into larger domains (ca. 1-5m(2)) with more or less similarly oriented zeolite crystallites. It is clear that this visualization approach may serve as a post-synthesis quality control on the dispersion of zeolite ZSM-5 crystallites within FCC particles
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