Unsupported NiMo sulfide catalysts were prepared from ammonium tetrathiomolybdate (ATTM) and nickel nitrate by using a hydrothermal synthesis method involving water, organic solvent and hydrogen. The activity of these catalysts in the simultaneous hydrodesulfurization (HDS) of dibenzothiophene (DBT) and 4,6-dimethyldibenzothiophene (4,6-DMDBT) was much higher than that of the commercial NiMo/Al2O3 sulfide catalysts. Interestingly, the unsupported NiMo sulfide catalysts showed higher activity for hydrogenation (HYD) pathway than the direct desulfurization (DDS) pathway in the HDS of DBT. The same trends were observed for the HDS of 4,6-DMDBT. Morphology, surface area, pore volume and the HDS activity of unsupported NiMo sulfide catalyst depended on the catalyst preparation conditions. Higher temperature and higher H2 pressure and addition of an organic solvent were found to increase the HDS activity of unsupported NiMo sulfide catalysts for both DBT and 4,6-DMDBT HDS. Higher preparation temperature increased HYD selectivity but decreased DDS selectivity. High-resolution TEM images revealed that unsupported NiMo sulfide prepared at 375 °C shows lower number of layers in the stacks of catalyst with more curvature and shorter length of slabs compared to that prepared at 300 °C. On the other hand, higher preparation pressure increased DDS selectivity but decreased HYD selectivity for HDS of 4,6-DMDBT. HRTEM images showed higher number of layers in the stack for the NiMo sulfide prepared under an initial H2 pressure of 3.4 MPa compared to that under 2.1 MPa. The optimal Ni/(Mo + Ni) ratio for the NiMo sulfide catalyst was 0.5, higher than that for the conventional Al2O3-supported NiMo sulfide catalysts. This was attributed to the high dispersion of the active species and more active NiMoS generated. The present study also provides new insight for controlling the catalyst selectivity as well as activity by tailoring the hydrothermal preparation conditions.
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