New insight in the role of modifying ligands in the sol-gel processing of metal alkoxide precursors: a possibility to approach new classes of materials

Vadim G. Kessler*, Gerald I. Spijksma, Gulaim A. Seisenbaeva, Sebastian Hakansson, David H.A. Blank, Henny J.M. Bouwmeester

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

166 Citations (Scopus)


This paper summarizes recent literature data and presents new experimental data on the mechanisms of chemical modification, hydrolysis and polycondensation of the alkoxides and demonstrates possibilities to approach new classes of materials, exploiting these mechanisms. Low reactivity of silicon alkoxides is improved by either basic catalysis exploiting an SN2 mechanism or acidic catalysis facilitating a proton-assisted SN1 mechanism as well as by modification with chelating ligands. Metal alkoxides are much stronger Lewis bases compared to silicon alkoxides and the acidity of water is strong enough to achieve their rapid hydrolysis via proton-assisted SN1 pathway even in the absence of additional catalysts. Introduction of the modifying chelating ligands is leading generally to increased charge distribution in the precursor molecules.Modifying chelating ligands are also appreciably smaller than the alkoxide ligands they replace. The modification with chelating ligands is thus facilitating the kinetics of hydrolysis and polycondensation. The size and shape of the primary particles formed in sol-gel treatment of metal alkoxides are defined not by kinetic factors in their hydrolysis and polycondensation but by the interactions on the phase boundary, which is in its turn directed by the ligand properties. The products of the fast hydrolysis and condensation sequence consist of micelles templated by self-assembly of ligands (mainly oxo-species). This concept provides explanations for commonly observed material properties and allows for the development of new strategies for the preparation of materials. We discuss the formation of inverted micelles, obtained by the appropriate choice of solvents, which allows for the formation of hollow spheres. The modifying β-diketonate ligands act as the surfactant and form an interface between the hollow sphere and the solvent. Retention of ligands inside the gel particles is possible only if ligands possessing both chelating and bridging properties are applied. Application of such ligands, for example, diethanolamine, permits to prepare new transition metal oxide based microporous membranes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-179
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of sol-gel science and technology
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Sol-gel
  • Chemical modifications
  • Gelation mechanism
  • Micelle templated by self-assembly of ligands (MTSAL)
  • Hollow spheres
  • Microporous membranes


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