Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Mankind faces great challenges in providing sufficient supplies of renewable energy, in protecting our environment, and in developing benign processes for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. These urgent problems can only be solved by applying the best available technology, but this requires a solid foundation of fundamental knowledge created through a multidisciplinary yet focussed approach. Catalysis is an essential enabling technology because it holds the key to solving many of these problems. CASTech aims to build on the science and engineering advances developed in previous collaborative programmes involving the main participants. Specifically, new core competencies for the investigation of reactions in multiphase systems will be developed. These will include MR imaging techniques (University of Cambridge, UCam); computational fluid dynamics (UCam); spectroscopic methods (QUB); SSITKA (QUB); flow visualisation and particle tracking (PEPT) (University of Birmingham, UBir); theoretical calculations (University of Virginia, UVa; QUB) for liquid phase processes. An enhanced time resolution fast transient and operando spectroscopy capability will be developed for investigating the mechanisms and the nature of the active sites in heterogeneous catalytic gas phase reactions (QUB). These core competencies will be applied to investigate the activation of saturated alkanes, initially building on our recent success in oxidative cracking of longer chain alkanes.We propose to develop our experimental and modelling capabilities with the objective of providing quantitative data on how to enhance the performance of a catalytic system by understanding and controlling the interaction between the solvent(s), the substrates and the catalyst surface. We aim to be able to describe the structure of liquids in catalytic systems at multiscale from the external (bulk) liquid phase to inside the porous structure of the catalyst and at the catalyst surface. The research will integrate new experimental probes and complementary theoretical approaches to help us understand liquid structures and we will use this information in collaboration with our industrial partners to address specific technical challenges.Bio-polymeric materials, e.g. cellulose and lignin, have the potential to provide functionalised building blocks for both existing and novel chemical products. Our ultimate aim is to provide novel and economically viable processes for the conversion of lignin into high value-added products. However, by starting with the conversion of lignosulphonates into vanillin and other higher value chemicals we will develop not only new processes but also the core competencies required to work with more complex fluids.Biogas (CH4 + CO2) can be produced from many different renewable sources but capturing and storing the energy is difficult on a small distributed scale. We propose to investigate a new, economic, down-sized engineering approach to the conversion of methane to dimethylether. This will be achieved by reducing the number of unit operations and developing new catalysts capable of performing under the more extreme temperature conditions that will be required to make the process economic.The drive to use catalysts for cleaner more sustainable chemistry needs also to address the inherently polluting and unsustainable process of catalyst manufacture itself. We will investigate the sustainable production of supported catalysts using electrochemical deposition of the metal. This method bypasses several conventional steps and would generate very little waste. In all these Grand Challenges there will be close collaboration between all the academic and industrial groups.


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Akpa B (2012) Solvent effects in the hydrogenation of 2-butanone in Journal of Catalysis

Description There were 3 main project outputs from Cambridge in this collaborative project.

(1) The development of T1-T2 magnetic resonance relaxation time measurements to characterise liquid phase adsorption processes in situ in catalytic systems

(2) the development of an in situ catalytic reactor which could sit inside a superconducting magnet. Funding from other grants was used to supplement funding from the CASTech project to achieve this. The reactor can reach a temperature of 350 C and 30 bar.

(3) The development of robust CFD simulation codes to predict air-water and air-hydrocarbon simulations in fixed-bed reactors. A single-phase flow code was also validated against MRI data.
Exploitation Route The industrial collaborator on this project is exploring ways of taking the relaxometry methods in-house. Further details are available from JM. We are working closely with a number of industrial partners to use the in situ reactor and relaxometry techniques to study heterogeneous catalytic processes. 4 companies are now sponsoring work associated with the in situ reactor capability.
Sectors Chemicals

Description The magnetic resonance relaxometry methods developed in this project now provide a robust screening tool for solvent selection and materials selection in catalysis. This was demonstrated in a satellite project (totally funded by industry) on a particular catalytic conversion. Added in 2019: The NMR relaxometry method developed in this project is now used widely by other researchers and as a screening and characterisation tool for molecule-surface interactions in many academic and industrial laboratories.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Chemicals
Impact Types Economic