Principles for Researching Catalysis
Topsoe’s unique position in supplying cutting edge catalysts and technologies is founded on a long-term commitment to research and development, and our effort in catalysis is one of the largest worldwide.
As a result, Topsoe is a world leader in providing new knowledge about many catalysts and catalytic processes.
At Topsoe, research and development is an integrated part of the company, and the development work is carried out in close collaboration with marketing, production and engineering.
Research activities range from fundamental molecular studies to large-scale process demonstrations. Large efforts are devoted to our existing technologies, and we are continuously engaged in expanding our range of products and services.
A fundamental understanding is key to new developments, and therefore also key to providing the best service and products to our clients. Consequently, a significant part of our research deals with long-term and fundamental research.
This necessitates a continuous development of new core competencies as well as collaboration with a worldwide network of catalysis groups at universities and research institutes.
Our approach to understanding catalytic processes is to combine empirical knowledge with fundamental facts of the chemistry, taking place at the catalyst.
Together with detailed information of the catalyst composition and structure under process conditions, this forms the basis for the development of new and improved catalysts, and is achieved by using state-of-the-art analytical techniques and tools.
The results of the fundamental investigations are used via computer programs to predict the industrial performance of catalysts and processes.
Thus a large part of the research and development is allocated to pilot plant studies under relevant industrial conditions. Such studies often involve existing and potential customers to ensure that their needs and experience guide the development work.
Supported Rh nanocrystal
Ni-based alloy particle
Studying catalysts and the catalytic process
Heterogeneous catalysts are typically multiphase systems where the structural and chemical states of the active species depend intimately on the process conditions. When characterizing a catalyst, it is therefore necessary to carry out the study under conditions, which are close to those encountered in an industrial reactor, i.e., to study the catalyst in place, or in Latin: in situ. With such studies it is possible to obtain detailed atomic-scale descriptions of the nanostructures and the sites where the catalysis takes place – the “active sites” – under reaction conditions.
The information gained from in situ studies is important for our understanding of a working catalyst, and Topsoe has over the years been world leading in the development of several novel in situ techniques. Since most techniques have difficulties in dealing with both the structural complexity of the catalyst, and the demanding conditions of an industrial reactor, extensive developments in both techniques and in situ reaction cells have been carried out.
The most successful methods introduced are within the areas of X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM).
XRD and XAS have the unique advantage that they can be applied while the catalyst is at high pressure and temperature allowing more realistic studies and thus more detailed insight into the catalyst structure.
Fourier Transformed Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy has been very valuable in providing information on the surface properties of the catalysts.
Recently, we have been involved in the development of a novel high resolution Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) with in situ capabilities.
The in situ techniques are also ideally suited for time-resolved studies making investigations of dynamic phenomena of the catalyst structure and chemical properties feasible.
Au nanoparticles supported on TiO2
Bench scale studies are a corner stone of new developments within catalyst and processes.
Topsoe’s bench scale laboratories are equipped with hundreds of test units mainly constructed in-house, and our proprietary know-how forms the basis of the design of these units. In some cases tests are carried out to investigate the influence of various poisons on catalyst behavior, in other cases the units are used for catalyst screening of potential new catalysts. In certain business areas the bench scale units run long-term run tests for customers, in many cases based on feeds imported directly from refineries.
Bench-scale testing also involves gathering data necessary for construction of kinetic expressions used in the reaction models. These reaction models are applied in the design of industrial plants. The transformation of knowledge from bench-scale units via computer models into design of industrial plants is considered one of Topsoe’s core competencies.
In pilot units it is usually possible to recycle gases allowing the use of real feeds and materials relevant for industrial units. These tests often result in further data, which may confirm previous test data necessary for the thermodynamic calculations.
Some of the pilot units are constructed for back up of commercial processes by means of troubleshooting and test of new feeds and operating parameters based on input from customers.
Catalyst development and scaling up of processes for industrial production is also a focus area when working with pilot units. Topsoe uses the Catalyst Technology facilities where semi industrial equipment is used for trial productions.
Pilot units for new processes are often placed on potential customers’ sites. This enables pilot units to operate on real feeds, giving Topsoe the opportunity to receive feedback and customer requirements in the development phase. It is even more essential to run pilot tests for customers dealing with units downstream coal based gasifiers.