Industrial process chemistry
In the iCSI centre, the group is working with industrial partners to improve catalysts and associated technology applied to the following industrial processes:
- Production of nitric acid (HNO3) from ammonia (NH3)
- Synthesis of polyvinylchloride (PVC) produced by polymerization of the monomer vinyl chloride (VCM)
- Improve the performance of existing formalin production process technology which is based on the catalytic oxidation of methanol to formaldehyde
The fact that 85-90% of all chemical production is catalysis based, illustrates the importance of catalysis to the economic growth and the life-standard developed over the previous century. By optimizing the catalytic process, energy consumption and cost in industrial processes will be reduced. Catalysis is also key to enhancing selectivity, an important principle of green chemistry, since it reduces the formation of byproducts and waste as well as the energy consumption.
Natural Gas Conversion
Natural gas is an abundant hydrocarbon fuel and chemical feedstock, and 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 international industry and SINTEF.
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. Replacing noble metals using doped carbon nanomaterials in fuel cells, dehydrogenation reactions and in water treatment have been explored in a European project coordinated by the Catalysis group at NTNU.
Environmental catalysis -reduced exhaust emissions
Tight regulations on environmental pollution – NOx, sulphur oxides (SOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and particulates –from road transport has gradually come in place in industrialized countries, and even tighter emission standards will follow since these emissions seriously affect people’s health in urban areas. Supply of efficient, reliable emission abatement technologies are therefore required. Catalytic abatement technologies such as selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and methane oxidation are important contributions in order to succeed in reducing the emissions.
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 research is focused on catalytic aspects of thermochemical conversion, such as bio-oil upgrading, syngas cleaning and composition adjustment, residual hydrocarbon reforming and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Some of our facilities have now been opened to visitors from all over Europe through our participation in the EU-project BRISK.
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 Tunnelling Microscopy. We focus on characterisation of catalysts at working conditions (in situ characterisation) and for this purpose we are using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble. We have in-house facilities for in situ IR and Raman spectroscopy. Steady State Isotopic Transient Kinetic Analysis (SSITKA) and the Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance (TEOM) are powerful techniques for studying important phenomena such as reaction kinetics, mechanisms, catalyst deactivation, diffusion in porous materials and adsorption, absorption and desorption.
New reactor concepts and structured supports
Emerging reactor technologies such as micro-structured reactors and (catalytic) membrane reactors are being developed and tested.
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 specialized functional materials is an important industry. Understanding the processes involved in the preparation, and developing improved methods are therefore central research areas. We work with new methods for the preparation of supports and catalysts, as well as the preparation and use of structured, mesoporous supports. Other areas include core-shell nanoparticles and size and shape-control of metal particles.
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.