High-temperature, stable core–shell catalysts for ammonia decomposition have been synthesized. The highly active catalysts, which were found to be also excellent model systems for fundamental studies, are based on α-Fe2O3 nanoparticles coated by porous silica shells. In a bottom-up approach, hematite nanoparticles were firstly obtained from the hydrothermal reaction of ferric chlorides, L-lysine, and water with adjustable average sizes of 35, 47, and 75 nm. Secondly, particles of each size could be coated by a porous silica shell by means of the base-catalyzed hydrolysis of tetraethylorthosilicate (TEOS) with cetyltetramethylammonium bromide (CTABr) as porogen. After calcination, TEM, high-resolution scanning electron microscopy (HR-SEM), energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX), XRD, and nitrogen sorption studies confirmed the successful encapsulation of hematite nanoparticles inside porous silica shells with a thickness of 20 nm, thereby leading to composites with surface areas of approximately 380 m2 g−1 and iron contents between 10.5 and 12.2 wt %. The obtained catalysts were tested in ammonia decomposition. The influence of temperature, iron oxide core size, possible diffusion limitations, and dilution effects of the reagent gas stream with noble gases were studied. The catalysts are highly stable at 750 °C with a space velocity of 120 000 cm3 gcat−1 h−1 and maintained conversions of around 80 % for the testing period time of 33 h. On the basis of the excellent stability under reaction conditions up to 800 °C, the system was investigated by in situ XRD, in which body-centered iron was determined, in addition to FeNx, as the crystalline phase under reaction conditions above 650 °C.
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