The Catalysis Group
The research and teaching in catalysis, petrochemistry and related subjects (including surface science, adsorption and physical studies of porous materials, reaction kinetics and process engineering) is organised in the Catalysis Group, a joint effort wher, and the research institute SINTEF share laboratories and equipment.
Personnel from the two organisations work together and participate in teaching and research. About 10-15 students graduate each year (M.Sc.). The group participates extensively in international networks, research programs etc., and cooperates closely with a number of universities and research groups inside and outside the EU.
The group and the laboratories
At present the group comprises about 50 people: 5 Professors, 2 Adjunct professors, about 10 fulltime research scientists holding Ph.D's, 5-10 Post.doc's and about 25 Ph.D students. The laboratories and equipment include a large number of microreactors for catalyst studies, several small pilot plants, all the necessary equipment for catalyst and material characterization (chemisorption, physical adsorption, Temperature Programmed techniques (TPR, TPD, thermal analysis), XPS, Auger spectroscopy, STM, FTIR and others). Recently,in situ IR/Raman andthe TEOM-technique (Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance) have been introduced in the laboratory, and we were the first group in Europe to utilize the TEOM technique in catalyst studies. Cooperation with the Departments of Physics (TEM, X-ray techniques and surface science), and Materials Science and Engineering, the other groups at the department of Chemical Engineering (all aspects of chemical and process engineering, particularly reactor engineering and colloid and polymer chemistry) and other departments ensures a wide scope and a high quality of the work. The research is funded by the Norwegian Research Council, EU, Norwegian and international industry and other sources, and spans from fundamental studies of ideal surfaces to studies of real catalysts and process development work in small pilot plants.
Natural Gas Conversion
Natural gas is an abundant hydrocarbon fuel and chemical feedstock. Utilizing this resource with minimum environmental impact is a major challenge to catalysis. It is the main goal of the present programme to study catalytic processes for conversion of natural gas to chemicals and fuels including hydrogen. The programme includes production of synthesis gas, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, and dehydrogenation of C2-C4 alkanes. The work is carried out in close collaboration with Norwegian industry and SINTEF.
Fundamental Studies in Heterogeneous Catalysis
Several experimental techniques are used to study the details of solid catalysts. We are working together with Department of Physics on the use of Transmission Electron Microscopy and Scanning Tunneling Microscopy. We focus on characterisation of catalysts at working conditions and for this purpose we are using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble and together with the Ugelstad Laboratory we have recently purchased new facilities for IR and Raman spectroscopy. The TEOM (Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance) is also a powerful technique for studying important phenomena like catalyst deactivation, diffusion in porous materials and adsorption, absorption and desorption.
Particular attention is directed towards hydrogen technology. Catalysis is important in the production of hydrogen from hydrocarbons. Natural gas in an important source of hydrogen, and research is thus linked to syngas issues. In addition, the conversion of "transportable" hydrogen carriers such as propane, methanol and (bio) ethanol is studied. Of particular relevance is the integration of CO2 separation technologies in hydrogen production processes, and this is targeted through sorption enhanced reactions and membrane reactors (see below). The group is also involved in development of improved fuel cell catalysts based on carbon nanofibers (also below). Collaborations include SINTEF as well as Norwegian industry.
The research is focused on catalytic aspects of thermochemical conversion, such as syngas cleaning and composition adjustment, residual hydrocarbon reforming and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.
Carbon nanofibres (CNF) have several interesting properties such as high resistance to strong acids and bases, high electric conductivity (similar to graphite), relatively high surface area and high mechanical strength. These unique properties lead to a large number of applications, such as catalyst supports, selective sorption agents, energy storage, composite materials, nano-electric and nano-mechanical devices, as well as field emission devices. The programme includes synthesis of carbon nanofibres and nanotubes of different morphology and the use of CNF/CNT in applications such as heterogeneous catalysis, fuel cells and conversion and storage of energy. This is done in collaboration with other groups at NTNU, SINTEF and Norwegian Industry.
New reactor concepts and structured supports
Emerging reactor technologies such as microstructured reactors and (catalytic) membrane reactors are being developed and tested. The use of structured supports such as monoliths and foams is being studied, particularly for short contact time reaction systems like partial oxidation and oxidative dehydrogenation. The work on microstructured reactors, where channels with micrometer dimensions (1-1000µm) and up-scaling by parallelization is applied to enable new properties and possibilities, is performed in collaboration with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. Membrane reaction concepts based on novel Pd thin film technology are being developed together with SINTEF, and a partnership with MIT and Statoil is directed towards the use of high-temperature proton-conducting membranes in hydrogen production with CO2 capture.
Accelerated environmental pollution on a global scale has drawn attention to the need for totally new environmentally friendly and clean chemical technologies. The application of photocatalysis to reduce toxic agents in air and water by developing catalysts that can utilise clean and abundant solar energy and convert it into useful chemical energy is a promising challenge. Photocatalysts that can operate at ambient temperature without producing harmful by-products are ideal as environmentally sound catalysts. For such systems to be considered in large-scale applications, photocatalytic systems that are able to operate effectively and efficiently using sunlight must be established. Hydrogen can be produced by photoinduced reforming of organic compounds, including methane and alcohols. Furthermore, the photoreduction of carbon dioxide into useful chemicals is a desirable prospect. It is essential to convert CO2 into useful substances that are common feedstocks for the production of other chemicals (C2-C3+, alcohols, etc.). The photocatalysis work is carried out in close collaboration with other European universities and the Department of Materials Technology.
Upgrading of crude oil and oil fractions is an important subject of research. Especially due to new environmental legislation demanding more efficient processes. The programme includes catalytic reforming, isomerization, hydrotreating/ hydrocracking and heavy oil upgrading. The work is carried out in close cooperation with SINTEF and the industry.
Design and Preparation of New Catalysts and Supports
The catalytically active material is the key to any catalytic process, and the preparation of these, highly specalized functional materials is an important industry. Understanding the processes involved in the preparation, and developing improved methods are therefore a central research areas. We work with new methods for the preparation of supports and catalysts such as flame spray pyrolysis and spray drying, as well as the preparation and use of structured, mesoporous supports. Other areas include core-shell particles and size and shape-control of metal particles.