Zeolites are widely used acid catalysts in research and in industrial processes. The catalytic performance of these materials is affected by the nature and concentration of Brønsted and Lewis acid sites. The balance between these types of active sites—and thus the activity and selectivity of the zeolite—can be altered by the introduction of metal species, e.g., by ion exchange. Although the acidic properties of zeolites are routinely characterized by bulk-scale techniques, this ensemble-averaged approach neglects the local variations in the material. Insights into the distribution of active sites at the single-particle level are thus critical to better understand the impact of post-synthetic modifications on the zeolite acidity. In this contribution, we spatially resolve Brønsted and Lewis acid sites in protonated and Zn-exchanged ZSM-5 crystals. To this end, the vibrational modes of pyridine chemisorbed on active sites are mapped with stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy. The SRS images reveal sharp inter- and intra-particle heterogeneities in the distribution of Lewis acid sites introduced upon ion exchange, ascribed to local variations in the Al content. Besides assessing the impact of Zn exchange on the active site distribution in ZSM-5 crystals, this approach enables uniquely to map the distribution of Lewis acid sites in catalysts at the single-particle level.
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