Catalytic conversion of acetylene to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons over particles of pyroxene and alumina.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are known to be present in many astrophysical objects and environments, but our understanding of their formation mechanism(s) is far from satisfactory. In this paper, we describe an investigation of the catalytic conversion reaction of acetylene gas to PAHs over pyroxene and alumina. Crystalline silicates such as pyroxenes (with general formula [Mg, Fe]SiO₃) and alumina (Al₂O₃) are observed astrophysically through their infrared spectra and are likely to promote grain surface chemical reactions. In the experiments reported here, gas-phase PAHs were produced by the catalytic reaction of acetylene over crystalline silicates and alumina using a pulsed jet expansion technique and the gaseous products detected using time-of-flight mass spectrometry. In a separate experiment, the catalytic formation of PAHs from acetylene was further confirmed with acetylene gas at atmospheric pressure flowing continuously through a fixed-bed reactor. The gas effluent and carbonaceous compounds deposited on the catalysts were dissolved separately in dichloromethane and analysed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Among the samples studied, alumina showed higher activity than the pyroxene-type grains for the acetylene reaction. It is proposed that formation of the PAHs relies on the Mg²⁺ ions in the pyroxenes and Al³⁺ ions in alumina, where these ions act as Lewis acid sites. X-ray diffraction, Fourier transform infrared and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy techniques were used to characterize the structure and physical properties of the pyroxene and alumina samples.