Functional materials & specialties

Responsible use of material resources means that by-products from chemical production processes should be considered as useful reactants for the production of new chemicals. Furthermore, smart hybrid materials will enable us to lower our ecological footprints today and in the future.

ARC CBBC will develop innovative specialty chemicals as well as materials. For example efficient, sustainable and environmentally benign heterogeneous catalysts based on abundant and readily available chemical elements. This will enable the chemical industry to manufacture products in a more sustainable and clean way.

Multilateral research projects on Functional materials & specialties

Fundamentals of Catalysis: Ultimate control over nanoparticle structure, composition, size, and location in supported bimetallic catalysts

It is important to acquire detailed fundamental insights into and full control over the structure, composition, size and location of bimetallic nanoparticles on porous support oxides. By bringing different disciplines together that are covered by the selected PIs of ARC CBBC, we aim to make important steps forward in the synthesis of supported bimetallic nanoparticles for important catalytic reactions, including but not limited to the hydrogenation of CO2.

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Bert Weckhuysen

Professor of Inorganic chemistry and catalysis
Utrecht University

Robert Terörde

Senior research manager - Catalysis research

Bilateral projects on Functional materials & specialties

Ultra-pure support materials with well-defined pore structures

In this project we will explore new approaches to design and assemble 3D ordered porous metal oxide nanostructures, with high phase and surface purity and well defined pore structure.. These serve as supports for model catalysts that will be tested to provide insight on the role of the support, which is useful to optimize existing commercial catalysts (improving molecular and energy efficiency) and will also serve as a base for the design and preparation for catalyst to realise new sustainable fuels and chemicals.2 Hence, the project has a good fit to the overall research goal of ARC CBBC, as it concerns building blocks for novel sustainable energy and materials.

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3DnanoCatEvolution Resolving nanoscale evolution of heterogeneous catalysts

The proposed research addresses fundamentals of catalyst preparation, which are broadly applied in chemical industry to convert various types of feedstock into chemical building blocks. Supported metal and metal oxide catalysts comprise the most important class of heterogeneous catalysts in industrial practice. The project addresses a key step in catalyst preparation, namely impregnation, during which the metal precursor is brought into the porous structure. The unprecedent insight obtained by visualizing the pore texture in 2D and 3D during the infiltration and subsequent drying process and associated migration of metal precursor can lead to improved catalysts (e.g., improved pore design, optimization impregnation). Using a range of relevant supports with heterogeneities in terms of pore texture associated with industrial preparation further increases the impact of this approach. As such, the project addresses the key “fundamentals of catalysis” addressed by the ARC CBBC.

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Understanding shape selective catalysis through a quantitative approach

The transformation of hydrocarbons by zeolite catalysts will remain a crucial technology for the coming decades while (and for) arriving at a situation in which green sources are primarily used for the production of chemicals and fuels. One of the key aspects in this project is to obtain a fundamental understanding on how the “surrounding” (or “medium”) influences the properties of small molecules, and how this understanding of confinement can be exploited to design an optimal material for a given application. A molecular understanding of adsorption, desorption, and diffusion phenomena will be useful for other research projects at ARC-CBBC, e.g. the production and separation of small molecules such as CO, CO2, ethylene, and methanol using (micro)porous materials. The proposed research falls under the themes of “functional materials & specialties” to enable lowering our ecological footprint, and the “energy carriers” research theme by reducing the energy need of catalytic processes.

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Structure Sensitivity of Hydrogenation Catalysis over Small Nickel Metal Nanoparticles

The research on hydrogenation catalysis over small nickel nanoparticles is a typical example of small molecule activation, in which e.g. CH4 and CO2 are used as feedstock molecules for the production of important base chemicals making use of renewable hydrogen. 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 further exploring the characterization methods of time-resolved operando X-ray absorption spectroscopy & infrared spectroscopy and in-situ X-ray & electron microscopy 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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Scalable manufacturing of nanostructured, electro-conductive, carbon blacks

We aim at surface modification of inorganic fillers such as electro-conductive carbon (EC) blacks. Tuning the surface properties enhances the performance of these EC-Blacks in different applications, such as conductive polyolefins, coatings, thermosets etc. We will do this by utilizing manufacturing techniques, such as atomic layer- and chemical vapor deposition (ALD and CVD) for coating of the carbon black powder in gas phase. These techniques are scalable: we develop technology that can be used to produce large quantities of material.

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Luminescence Thermometry for Operando Monitoring of Local Temperatures during Endothermic and Exothermic Hydrocarbon Conversion Processes

This project aims to investigate the wide applicability of luminescence thermometry within the field of heterogeneous catalysis. This will be done by studying two archetypal catalytic reactions relevant for small molecule hydrocarbon conversions, namely the endothermic propane dehydrogenation reaction and the exothermic oxidative coupling of methane reaction. The harsh conditions of these catalytic reactions require the development of improved temperature probes with respect to thermal stability and luminescence quantum yield to handle the high reaction temperatures (500–1000 °C) of catalysis and catalyst regeneration and to overcome competitive light absorption by (potentially formed) coke species. For this purpose, we will perform a thorough investigation of both the inorganic host lattice and the lanthanide dopant ions responsible for the temperature-dependent luminescence phenomena. After the development of improved temperature probes, they will be evaluated for their applicability in two selected reactions under various conditions, thereby laying the foundation for their wider use.

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In silico design of chemicals and their properties

We aim at developing a computational toolbox for quickly developing efficient chemicals. The toolbox consists of a large set of consistent thermochemical and structural data as well as physical models that allow for rational design.

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Development of new catalytic technologies for industrial waste water treatment

With growing environmental awareness and water becoming a scarce resource in certain parts of the world, the demand for water treatment will considerably grow in the future. The treatment of waste water effluents containing biological treatment resistant chemicals (e.g. aromatic compounds, pharmaceuticals etc.) is a very important topic for the chemical industry. The researchers in this project will develop new catalytic approaches to waste water treatment, thus reducing the environmental burden of chemical processes.


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Reactor technology for reduction of metal oxide catalysts

Catalysts used in industry often contain metal oxides of cobalt, nickel and copper where the final step in the manufacturing process of the catalyst involves the reduction of the metal oxide with hydrogen. The resulting catalysts are widely used in the chemical process industry for the production of base chemicals and energy carriers.

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Unravelling structure sensitivity in CO2 hydrogenation over nickel

Efforts in the fields of materials science have allowed us to create smaller and smaller metal nanoparticles, creating new opportunities to study catalytic properties that depend on the metal particle size. Structure sensitivity is the phenomenon where not all surface atoms in a supported metal catalyst have the same activity. Understanding the structure sensitivity can assist in the rational design of heterogeneous catalysts allowing to control mechanisms, activity and selectivity.

By making use of advanced characterization methods and a set of well-defined silica-supported Ni clusters (ranging from 1 Ni atom to ~ 10 nm Ni nanoparticles), we wish to investigate how structure sensitivity influences hydrogenation catalysis by taking CO2 reduction as a showcase. These findings may bring new understanding in selective reactant adsorption (e.g. H2, CO2 and olefins) and allow controlling both activity and selectivity hydrogenation catalysis over supported Ni catalysts, which can be a means for CO2 emission abatement.

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Fundamentals of reduction of nickel-based catalysts

Heterogeneous metal catalysts are amongst the most important industrial catalysts. During catalyst preparation it is of high interest to yield a stable and highly dispersed active metal phase. The reduction of these catalysts is a vital step in the catalyst preparation as it determines the dispersion and thereby activity. There has been a wealth of investigations on the mechanism of reduction, however, most studies were performed either ex-situ or with model systems.

This project focuses on gaining insights into the reduction mechanisms of nickel catalysts. In that respect, it is vital to study the evolution of the active phases of typical catalysts with a combination of complementary techniques. Along with the understanding thus generated, the project aims at improving the synthesis of current catalysts by influencing the reduction processes and beyond that leading to new and improved catalyst properties.

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The re-use of the by-product hydrochloric acid to generate valuable compounds

For Nouryon, the project concerns the re-use of the by-product hydrochloric acid to generate valuable compounds, thereby aiming to close the raw material loop, to reduce the carbon footprint and to support the circular economy approach. To be able to do this in an economically viable process, new chemistry and catalysts will need to be developed.

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