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Partnership to create technology for sustainable chemical industry

9 July 2024

A scientist carrying out an experiment in a laboratory
The Cardiff Catalysis Institute and Max Planck Centre on the Fundamentals of Heterogeneous Catalysis (FUNCAT) are based in Cardiff University’s Translational Research Hub – part of its new £300 million Innovation Campus, which combines cutting-edge research facilities, technology transfer, business development and student enterprise.

A new partnership will bring together world-leading experts to create catalysts for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly chemical industry.

The team of scientists from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI) and Cardiff University’s Max Planck Centre on the Fundamentals of Heterogeneous Catalysis (FUNCAT) will make and characterise new catalysts in collaboration with the Catalysis Hub in Harwell, Max Planck Institute für Kohlenforschung (KOFO) in Mulheim, the Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max Planck Society (FHI) in Berlin, and the Instituto de Tecnologia Quimica (ITQ) in Valencia.

Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the partnership will enable exchange of expertise and cutting-edge facilities between the centres of research excellence in the UK and across Europe.

It is estimated that at least 80% of manufactured goods require a catalyst – a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction – during their production.

Without effective catalysts, many of the products and processes that we rely on would simply not be possible. But at present, the chemical industry primarily uses fossil carbon sources like natural gas, oil, and coal. This approach is not sustainable in the long term because it contributes to climate change and other environmental problems.
Professor Stuart Taylor Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of Research

“As a result, researchers are looking for new ways to make chemicals that rely on green and sustainable carbon sources. This new partnership with colleagues here in the UK, in Germany, and in Spain aims to accelerate the production of important chemicals and intermediates in a sustainable way.”

Acetylene is one molecule that has the potential to be an essential intermediate for a sustainable chemical industry, according to the team of researchers.

Developed over a century ago, acetylene chemistry was displaced by readily available ethene derived from oil. However, acetylene can be made from renewable non-fossil fuel resources, such as bio-gas and this offers great potential.

Professor Taylor added: “A revival of acetylene chemistry could be crucial for a new green chemical industry because of its potential to create a renewable source of carbon.

“So, one of the aims of our international centre to centre research collaboration is to design and understand a new class of catalysts to produce key chemicals and intermediates from acetylene.”

Their research will focus on understanding what controls the activity of these catalysts in specific reactions.

Across laboratories in the UK and Europe, the teams will draw on complementary areas of expertise including Cardiff’s advanced microscopy and catalyst synthesis, high-pressure facilities for acetylene catalysis at KOFO, the fundamental surface science and advanced characterisation techniques available at Harwell and FHI, the advanced computational methodologies of the FHI and CCI and the synthetic expertise concerning nanoparticles of ITQ.

Many of the scientists assembled for this centre to centre initiative have worked together previously in various combinations, so it’s exciting to renew these connections – not only for effective collaboration and communication, but also – to tackle one of the major scientific challenges of our time, achieving a sustainable chemical industry.
Professor Graham Hutchings Regius Professor of Chemistry

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