Industrial Catalysis

Industrial catalysis has been applied to the production of more than 90% of chemicals. The subject of industrial catalysis has been systematically studied in aspects of catalyst design, transport/reaction analysis and process optimization. At nanoscale, high-performance catalysts are constructed based on first-principle calculations and catalytic experiments, and microscopic reaction kinetic mechanism and models are established in combination with in-situ characterizations. At meso-scale, multiphase models are developed to analyze transport and reaction processes within reactors. At macro-scale, big data modelling methods and in-line measurement techniques are employed to enable the design and optimization of complex reactors and processes. We expect to provide a research paradigm via integrating the research from "nanoscale catalysis" to "reactor/process optimization" for the industrial catalysis.

1. Alkane dehydrogenation


Light alkenes, such as ethylene, propylene, and butylene, are extensively used as chemical building blocks in the chemical industry. The catalytic dehydrogenation of light alkanes into the corresponding alkenes is of great interest due to the limited petroleum reserves and development of the exploitation technology for shale gas. The current commercial processes are still restricted by the catalyst performance and cost. We aim to develop eco-friendly and cost-efficient catalysts to boost the alkene production industry. Current projects include:  
  ●Rational design and fabrication of efficient Pt-based catalysts and alternative catalysts  
  ●Determination of structure-performance relationship for designed catalysts using density functional theory (DFT) calculations and operando/in situ characterization techniques  
  ●Scale-up production of dehydrogenation catalysts with well-defined structures  

2. COx and Alkyne hydrogenation


CO2 hydrogenation is an approach to produce clean fuels and valuable chemicals from a gas mixture of CO2 and H2, which can reduce the use of fossil fuels and control greenhouse gas emissions. However, the reaction route of CO2 hydrogenation is rather complex due to the requirement of the activation of both CO2 and H2. We aim to understand the influence of geometric and electronic structures on the reaction pathway and develop efficient catalysts with desired selectivity. Current projects include:    
    ●Rational design of interfacial and synergistic structures for catalysts    
    ●Electronic interaction between oxide and support    
    ●Identification of the reaction pathway and active sites in CO2 hydrogenation    

      Polyethylene accounts for nearly 30% of the total production of plastics worldwide, which reaches more than 300 million tons every year. Prior to polymerization, the selective hydrogenation of the remnant acetylene (ca. 1%) in the raw ethylene stream is necessary. Traditionally, the hydrogenation of acetylene has been mostly catalyzed by noble metals supported on metal oxides or zeolites. We aim to reveal the influence of activation and transport of hydrogen species on this selective hydrogenation process. Current projects include:      
      ●Encapsulation structure of catalysts for the activation and spillover of hydrogen      
      ●Influence of electronic structures on the hydrogen activation process with higher catalytic performance      

3. Chemical looping process


It is desirable to perform energy or materials conversions through clean, safe and energy-efficient process technologies. Chemical looping processes can achieve the selective activation of C-H bonds, avoid the safety problems caused by co-feeding of oxygen with alkane and eliminate/alleviate the needs for separation, which leads to lower costs, emissions and energy penalties. Redox catalysts (usually metal oxides) that can selectively oxidize fuels using lattice oxygen play a central role in this technology. We aim to develop efficient redox catalysts with proper oxygen species for chemical looping alkane (e.g., methane, propane) conversion for the efficient production of propylene, syngas and hydrogen. Current projects include:        
        ●Design of redox catalysts via structure engineering to upgrade light alkane for the production of value-added chemicals        
        ●Determination of the active site for alkane activation and identification of active oxygen species for selective conversion or complete oxidation of alkanes by in situ techniques        
        ●Kinetics of lattice oxygen for surface reaction and bulk oxygen migration        

4. Reactor design and process optimization


The multi-scale nature of reaction and transport in multiphase renders the difficulty in the design and optimization of chemical processes. The rapid development of multiphase modelling methods and in-line measurement technologies provides feasible approaches to bridge the micro-scale multiphase behaviours and structures to the macro-scale processes performance. In addition, the chemical processes can be intensified by external fields, such as light, electricity and plasma, to promote the performance and energy efficiency. We aim to combine the multiphase modelling, in-line measurement and intensification methods to design and optimize chemical reactors and processes. Current projects include:          
          ●Development of multiphase modelling methods          
          ●Construction of in-line measurement for multiphase reactors          
          ●Process intensification via external fields