The challenge of relating results from laboratory tests of single crystal catalysts to their more complex industrial applications is being met head on by researchers at Shell Global Solutions.
Forming long chain hydrocarbons from carbon monoxide and hydrogen by the Fischer-Tropsch process is of huge interest. Unfortunately most studies into new catalysts do not use catalysts or conditions that reflect their use in industry. However, Heiko Oosterbeek at Shell Global Solutions in the Netherlands has studied the surface science of Fischer-Tropsch catalysts under more realistic conditions to try to bridge the gap between lab and industrial conditions.
Traditionally, catalyst characterisation is done under conditions very different to those found in industry, for example, ultra high vacuum (UHV) characterisation of catalysts to be used at high pressures. Oosterbeek prepared both single and polycrystals of cobalt that resembled real Co/SiO2 catalysts. He then used infra-red techniques to characterise them, and tested the catalysts at both UHV and high pressure.
"Oosterbeek tried to bridge the gap between lab and industrial conditions."
'The work aims to show the synergy between robust industrial experience and subtle theoretical insight into the structural aspects of heterogeneous catalysis,' said Oosterbeek.
These methods could lead to valuable new discoveries. Carlos Otero Arean from Universidad de las Islas, Spain, said 'Oosterbeek's work precisely addresses the gap between model studies and working catalysts, as applied to Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. He successfully shows how a combination of carefully designed experimental work and state-of-the-art techniques holds the potential to yield highly relevant new insights.'
Oosterbeek said the next challenge is to apply the techniques at pressures above atmospheric pressure and further close the material, pressure and instrument gap between the lab and industry.