Parallel-screening equipment for advanced catalyst testing and process intensification

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Chemistry


Over the past two decades, manufacturers and end-users of catalysts have followed the lead of the pharmaceutical industry and moved increasingly to high-throughput methodologies in their development programmes. This transition has not generally been mirrored by academic research laboratories, where one-at-a-time testing still prevails (particularly in the UK), usually as part of an iterative cycle of catalyst preparation, characterisation and evaluation. However, with the availability of rapid and high-throughput techniques for the formulation and characterisation of solid materials, the rate of catalyst discovery in academic laboratories is now often determined by the rate of performance testing. In this project to procure, commission and operate a multi-bed catalyst screening reactor, we will address this missing link within the academic heterogeneous catalysis community in the UK.

This new facility, which will be housed within the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI), will enable the CCI and its wide network of academic and industrial collaborators to increase their productivity in the key areas of catalyst discovery and catalytic process optimisation. As the CCI is a major player within the UK Catalysis Hub, the facility will in effect be accessible to almost every UK academic group that is active in heterogeneous catalysis.
The catalytic processes that will initially be targeted are those in which the CCI and the other members of the UK Catalysis Hub have already started to build capability:

(i) Exhaust-gas aftertreatment and waste-heat recovery for vehicles running on diesel, petrol, blended or alternative fuels.
(ii) Upgrading of variable sources of methane (such as shale gas, biogas and stranded natural gas) through selective oxidation, particularly to methanol and dimethyl ether.
(iii) Transformation of biomass derivatives to fine chemicals and fuels.
(iv) Oxidative dehydrogenation of alkanes to monomers and chemical intermediates by using greenhouse gases (such as CO2 and N2O) as soft oxidants.
(v) Preferential oxidation for the specific removal of contaminants in the clean-up of feedstreams.
(vi) Hydrogenation of CO or CO2 to hydrocarbons or oxygenates.

With the diversity of feedstocks and operating conditions that these processes require, the catalyst screening equipment will be used in a campaign mode that will maximise the proportion of testing time in relation to downtime - when feeds will be changed, analytical equipment re-calibrated, new test protocols defined and benchmark tests carried out. The operation and servicing of the equipment will be overseen by a Project Manager, who will be part of a Management Board with responsibility for prioritising and allocating access to the facility.

Planned Impact

People: Among the key functions of the strategic equipment requested will be its use to train future generations of catalyst scientists. In this way, PhD students and postdoctoral researchers will gain invaluable experience in high throughput and statistically designed experimentation. The skill-set that they develop will not only be directly transferable to an industrial research and development environment, but it will also be applicable to other complex and time critical processes, such as trouble-shooting within manufacturing.

Society: Benefits will come from the application of the equipment and the enabled methodologies to solve more quickly some of the most challenging problems facing society. These include environmental control (such as the development of 4-way catalysis for diesel exhaust systems), upgrading of low-value feedstocks and waste materials (such as biomass) and the transformation of methane from variable sources (ie in the form of stranded natural gas, shale gas and biogas). The emergent technologies will stimulate improved competitiveness in the UK energy, automotive and chemical manufacturing industries, creating new job opportunities and providing further incentives for education and up-skilling within the workforce.

Economy: The increase in productivity resulting from rapid screening will shorten the time from lab to commercialisation, by accelerating the initial phases of product and process development. This will provide the UK with the opportunity for early entry into new markets, particularly in economic sectors such as sustainable fuels and energy transformation. At the same time, the methodologies are likely to be highly effective in identifying and correcting deficiencies in existing catalytic processes, thereby allowing their efficiency to be improved.

Knowledge: Rapid screening will generate high volumes of data, which will be made widely available, except when the information contained is considered proprietary (ie generated within industrially sponsored projects). However, the greater source of new knowledge will be the processed data that will lead to:
(i) learning related to the fundamental and applied aspects of both heterogeneous catalysis and high-throughput experimental design, which will be disseminated through scientific literature, international conferences and multi-media presentations.
(ii) intellectual property in the form of patent filings, process designs and know-how (particularly in catalyst synthesis and operation).


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