Energy carriers

A clean, sustainable and steady energy supply for next generations will require the development of novel chemical building blocks and materials that provide efficient and safe energy storage solutions. ARC CBBC is exploring the development of such energy carriers, as well as the conversion technology to enable their production processes.

We want to find novel routes to activate small molecules such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen. We will develop both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts that are able to make larger hydrocarbons from small molecules, like carbon dioxide and water.

Multilateral research projects on Energy carriers

Small Molecule Activation: Pyrolytic upgrading of methane to ethylene, aromatics and carbon materials

Methane has tremendous potential as a chemical feedstock. It is an abundant and relatively cheap carbon source with a lower negative environmental footprint than other fossil resources, such as crude oil and coals. Aiming on this, we are now trying to convert methane, CH4, into ethylene, in both an energy- and atom-efficient way.

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Hans Kuipers

Professor of Multi-scale modelling of multiphase flows
Eindhoven University of Technology

Frank Wubbolts

Senior Partnerships Advisor
Shell

Bilateral projects on Energy carriers

Operando Micro-Spectroscopy of Coke Formation in Methane Dry Reforming Catalysis

The research on dry reforming of methane is a typical example in which two small molecules, namely CH4 and CO2, are used as feedstock molecules for the production of important base chemicals. This ambition is in the core of one of the ARC CBBC themes, namely small molecule activation, aiming for developing new or improved chemical technologies for creating a more sustainable future. Furthermore, an important toolbox for catalyst research will be expanded and strengthened by introducing time-gated Raman spectroscopy as a powerful operando tool thereby positively contributing to the ARC CBBC pillars of functional materials (i.e., solid catalysts) as well as fundamentals of catalysis (new insights in small molecule activation processes).

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Hydrogen Peroxide and Hydrogen Production through Photocatalytic Splitting of Water

In line with the main mission of ARC CBBC to develop sustainable chemical processes for the future, new and innovative approaches to low cost and scalable production of key building blocks using benign technologies is one of the pillars of the ARC CBBC. In this project catalytic strategies for the production of H2 and H2O2, from water using light-energy, are investigated, while taking on the challenge to directly convert O2 in the photocatalytic H2O splitting process into a highly valuable base chemical, besides common H2 production. Knowledge on production, handling and processing of H2 and H2O is guaranteed by the involvement of Shell in this project. Knowledge of and hands-on expertise in catalysis, design of robust nanostructured multifunctional materials/systems, photochemistry, redox processes and advanced spectroscopy is a requirement for a successful execution of this multifaceted project, and we will build on the current programs in our groups covering these knowledge areas (vide infra), ongoing CBBC cooperation and the particular expertise of the Principal Investigators (PI’s) of this ARC CBBC project and team members.  Ultimately, the perspective is the realisation of a waste free proof-of-concept lab scale process for production of hydrogen and hydrogen peroxide using water and light only.

 

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Exploring electrochemical promotion of catalytic oxidation of methane to alcohols

The proposed research addresses the conversion of an advantageous feedstock (methane) into chemical building blocks (methanol, ethanol). Methane is considered an important feedstock within ARC CBBC, as it is abundantly available, cheap and can positively contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy. Methanol is a versatile chemical, which can be easily transported and is a prospective energy carrier. It can also be easily converted into hydrocarbon fuels, aromatics or olefins. Aromatics and olefins are important chemical building blocks for the chemical industry. Ethanol is already used as a fuel (constituent), it is also a precursor to ethylene.

Furthermore, the proposed research aims at a direct conversion (not via synthesis gas) making methanol production less CO2 intensive and more affordable. Finally, there is an excellent fit with the available expertise offered by ARC CBBC.

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Photo-electrochemical fuel production: optimizing NiO, light absorber, and catalyst

An attractive approach to produce green fuel is to reduce CO2 using sunlight and protons in a photoelectrochemical (PEC) cell. A component that generally limits solar-to-fuel performance of a PEC cell, is the photocathode where the reduction needs to take place. The aim of this project, supported by Shell, is to develop a cheap, efficient and stable photocathode for the highly selective reduction of CO2 and protons to value added products. The conversion of CO2 into a dense energy carrier using renewable energy (also referred to as solar fuel) is an important element of Shell’s so-called ‘Long Range Research’ program.

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Exploring electrochemical promotion of catalytic oxidation of methane to alcohols

Converting methane – the main component in natural gas, a cheap and abundant feedstock – directly into a chemical such as methanol would have a tremendous impact on the chemical industry. Methanol is a fuel itself but can also be used as a building block for a range of products such as plastics, gasoline and intermediate chemicals. In this project, the researchers will first scrutinize the potential of electrochemical promotion of catalysis (EPOC) on direct methane to methanol conversion, followed by optimizing the nanomaterials that are able to convert methane into methanol. Renewable electricity is used to accelerate the reaction and control the selectivity.

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Electrochemical CO2 conversion: elucidating the role of catalyst, support and electrolyte

Producing a solar fuel, by reaction of water and CO2 captured from the environment is an attractive option to store cheap intermittent renewable electricity in a fuel that can be directly introduced to the market, with net zero CO2 emissions.

This project aims to develop electrochemical technology for this application by fundamental investigation (both computationally and experimentally) of catalysts, including metal alloys and innovative supports, and organic electrolytes. In order to screen materials and to rationalize the effect of each interplaying factor, a new testing unit will be developed wherein materials and operating conditions can be varied, mass transfer can be controlled, and in-situ analysis (both quantitatively and qualitatively) of the products of electrochemical CO2reduction is possible.

 

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Exploration of non-commodity zeolite frameworks for small molecule activation: acidity, reactivity and coke formation

Zeolites are widely used solid catalysts. Although there are more than 235 zeolite frameworks reported, almost all zeolite-based catalytic processes are performed by a limited number of frameworks. These are the so-called Big Five: FAU, MFI, FER, MOR and BEA. More recently, SAPO-34 and SSZ-13 with the CHA structure became important catalysts in e.g. methanol-to-hydrocarbon process and selective catalytic reduction of NOx.

Since industry wishes to develop more sustainable conversion processes, it is crucial to explore the properties of less conventional zeolite frameworks. In this research project, several non-commodity zeolite framework structures are investigated as examples of small molecule activation processes. To gather detailed physicochemical insights of these materials, a wide variety of bulk and local characterization methods will be used, while their performance is studied in the methanol-to-olefins (MTO) process as showcase. The latter allows making comparisons with current MTO catalysts.

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Perovskite crystallization for stable and large scale printable solar cells

The project aims at obtaining fundamental insights in the processes that govern perovskite thin film formation and crystallization for photovoltaic applications. Crystallite size, crystallite orientation, surface coverage, surface roughness and interaction with the receiving surface are crucial parameters that determine the solar cell performance. One of the principal issues in perovskites currently revolves around stability. The significant strides made in recent time provide the opportunity to comfortably think of large scale deployment.

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