Researching synthesis gas

Topsoe’s competencies within synthesis gas are based on long-term experience - an experience which is continuously enhanced by research and development of new catalysts and technologies.

Our extensive research and development as well as vast industrial experience enables us to offer a state-of-the-art portfolio of processes and catalysts for all steps in the synthesis gas process.

Feed purification


Topsoe’s research combines the know-how from refinery hydroprocessing and natural gas hydrogenation to optimize hydrogenation catalysts for deep desulfurization, and mono- as well as di-olefin hydrogenation for natural gas, refinery gas and naphtha processes.


Removal of trace elements, especially sulfur and chloride, is extremely important to avoid poisoning and deactivation of downstream catalysts. We tailor-make sulfur absorbents for different feedstocks and sulfur types and have a specialized laboratory section for handling and analyzing sulfur compounds in the parts per million to parts per billion range.


Topsoe has supplied market leading prereforming catalysts for more than 20 years. New catalysts are based on a combination of know-how ranging from fundamental studies to pilot plant testing.

Topsoe’s state of the art Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEM) are used to improve our knowledge on whisker carbon formation mechanisms(LINK), which in turn can be used to understand and improve catalyst operation limitations. Pilot plants are used to verify safe operation or operation limits for various feedstocks.

Low pressure drop is essential for efficient plant and reactor design. Topsoe has developed shape-optimized catalysts for small and large scale plants.

Primary reforming

Steam reforming catalysts

Steam reforming catalysts for primary reforming require high mechanical strength and a catalyst shape that minimizes pressure drop over the tubular reformer.

Key catalyst qualities

Good thermal and hydrothermal stability of the carrier is essential for obtaining good activity and long catalyst lifetime at the high operation temperatures of the reformer. Resistance towards carbon formation, catalytic as well as pyrolytic, is also important when operating in feedstocks ranging from heavy natural gas to naphtha.

Research in new catalysts for primary steam reforming undertakes these challenges to improve the performance of the primary steam reformer.

Steam reforming technology

Steam reforming is a highly endothermic reaction. The challenge is to incorporate high heat transfer and high catalytic activity in a single reactor without excessive pressure drop. On the heating side of the reactor the challenge is to transfer as much as possible of the latent heat into the reactor tube while maintaining an optimum heat flux profile from radiation and convection. Topsoe has a unique position in this field as provider of both the reactor technology and the catalyst.

Increasing heat integration

Topsoe’s R&D is continuously pursuing the development of even more compact reactor concepts to further integrate heat transfer and catalytic activity. Another major challenge is to further increase the heat integration of a syngas plant for higher energy efficiency. For higher heat integration the phenomena of metal dusting has to be considered along with heat transfer and reaction rate.

From fundamental studies to pilot plants

Technology development is pursued through fundamental studies of transport and reaction mechanisms as well as through laboratory and pilot scale experiments performed in-house and in larger scale together with our collaboration partners.

Autothermal & Secondary reforming

Autothermal reforming is a key technology within Topsoe’s portfolio of steam reforming technologies which includes:

  • stand-alone oxygen blown autothermal reforming for syngas production
  • oxygen blown secondary reforming for syngas production
  • air blown secondary reforming for ammonia production
  • Topsoe’s reactor design

Topsoe can provide a proprietary design of these reactors, and we have long experience with vessel design, refractory and proprietary burner designs such as CTS burners for oxygen blown reactors and ring burners for air blown reactors. Burners are designed individually for each reactor using advanced computational techniques. New approaches are tested using a combination of advanced computations and experimental validation.

Catalyst options

Topsoe’s portfolio includes a series of catalysts designed to ensure long and stable operation of autothermal and secondary reformers. The RKS and RKA type catalysts are characterized by their unmatched high thermal stability, which allows operation at severe operating conditions and provides extended catalyst lifetimes. The optimum catalyst loading often consists of a combination of different catalyst types and sizes. Based on Topsoe’s experience from the industry, the loading may be designed to accommodate a controlled deposition of rubies without compromising the performance of the reactor.

Water gas shift

Low temperature water gas shift (LTS)

The low temperature shift catalysts from Topsoe are well-proven technology which, based on many industrial references, are known for their high activity, stability and resistance to poisons. Through intensive research and development LTS catalysts with drastically reduced methanol by-product formation have successfully been introduced on the market. Presently R&D focuses on the development of new versions of LTS-catalysts characterized by even higher S-capacities ensuring prolonged lifetime of the industrially operated catalysts.

Medium temperature water gas shift (MTS)

In hydrogen plants a single medium temperature shift reactor is frequently the preferred solution for optimization of the hydrogen yield. Based on in-house research and development Topsoe has developed the MTS catalysts LK-819 and LK-813 - which ensure optimal performance in terms of stable activity, high selectivity and high mechanical strength.

High temperature water gas shift (HTS)

For the high temperature water gas shift reaction, typically performed at 320-450ºC, a Cu/Fe-oxide/Cr-oxide based catalyst (SK-201-2) is used. In the near future, an increasing amount of synthesis gas production will be based on coal gasification instead of natural gas. HTS feed gases produced by coal gasification typically contain more CO and less water compared to the conventional feed gas. The focus of the current research in HTS is to handle feeds produced by coal gasification, while preserving the stability and quality of the HTS process.


Low temperature methanation

Topsoe’s fundamental studies in the detailed reaction mechanism for methanation over transition metals have resulted in new understanding and aided the development of improved methanation catalysts.

The detailed reaction mechanism and the structure sensitivity of methanation over nickel catalysts were addressed in collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark studying catalysts, theory and single crystals.

Detailed research in the reaction mechanism for methanation has shown that dissociation of a COH radical at atomic metal step sites is the rate determining reaction step. More active experimental catalysts were found as part of this work.

High temperature methanation

Fundamental research in catalyst sintering and stabilization has resulted in methanation catalysts with unique thermal stability, which combined with process developments have resulted in the unique features of the Topsoe recycle methanation process - TREMP™. TREMP™ unites a highly active and stable high temperature methanation catalyst with a second-to-none heat recovery as an important step in the production of substitute natural gas (SNG) from coal, petcoke or biomass.

Sulfur Tolerant Shift Conversion

Topsoe and sulfur-resistant water-gas shift

Topsoe has been an active player in the market of sulfur resistant water-gas shift (sour shift) catalysts since the 80’s. More emphasis has been put on research with the past years’ rising oil prices. Developments in market trends regarding fuels, gasification technologies and downstream applications pose new challenges to a sour shift catalyst and process - challenges that Topsoe’s researchers are ready to take on.

Sour shift catalyst and technology

Sour shift is placed downstream the gasifier to convert part of the CO to H2. The shift conversion is adjusted to match the required CO/ H2 ratio depending on the end product. An optimum process design allows for a vital step in the synthesis train resulting in large plant energy benefits. The process is tailored for the application with the design of heat exchange integration providing quality steam - even super-heated high-pressure steam - when required.