Werny, M., Zarupski, J., ten Have, I., Piovano, A., Hendriksen, C., Friederichs, N., Meirer, F., Groppo, E., Weckhuysen, B.,
Kinetics-based differences in the early stage fragmentation of two structurally analogous silica-supported hafnocene- and zirconocene-based catalysts were observed during gas-phase ethylene polymerization at low pressures. A combination of focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) and nanoscale infrared photoinduced force microscopy (IR PiFM) revealed notable differences in the distribution of the support, polymer, and composite phases between the two catalyst materials. By means of time-resolved probe molecule infrared spectroscopy, correlations between this divergence in morphology and the kinetic behavior of the catalysts’ active sites were established. The rate of polymer formation, a property that is inherently related to a catalyst’s kinetics and the applied reaction conditions, ultimately governs mass transfer and thus the degree of homogeneity achieved during support fragmentation. In the absence of strong mass transfer limitations, a layer-by-layer mechanism dominates at the level of the individual catalyst support domains under the given experimental conditions.