The transition towards a CO2-neutral society poses a great challenge to catalysis research. On the short term, we need catalysts and processes that realize an optimally efficient and clean use of fossil fuels and feedstock. On the longer term, we need new catalytic materials for the transition to a CO2-neutral society, that can also accommodate the predicted increase in use of electricity and transport. In his inaugural speech, Professor Eelco Vogt stresses the importance of research into the fundamental understanding and improvement of our present-day refinery catalysis processes. “We will still need these processes for the time to come, so efficiency is required more than ever.”
A first step in realizing a CO2-neutral society is the large scale conversion of biomass into raw materials. Ultimately, processes in which CO2 is used as a building block have to be developed. Both pathways require new types of catalysts, and fundamental research in this field is beginning to pay off.
Grams versus tons
But present fundamental discoveries produce grams of products, whereas the consumption of oil, used mostly for transportation and chemicals production, amounts to around 12 million tons per day. Our total energy needs per day, largely produced from fossil fuels, are even at least twice as much.
Efficiency improved required more than ever
Moreover, we will have to rely on fossil fuels for transportation and energy production for some decades, due to the energy density of the feedstock and the available production and distribution infrastructure. Wind and solar energy are becoming more prominent in the production of electricity, but not enough to meet the predicted increase in electricity consumption of 70% over the next 25 years. Therefore catalyst research into efficiency improvement of present-day processes both in energy and raw material use, is required more than ever.
Dutch catalyst researchers, catalyst producers and their users as well as the Topsector Chemistry have developed two roadmaps to meet this challenge. They lay out a trajectory of thirty years to reach a carbon-neutral society in 2050. The roadmaps prescribe a three-pronged approach: efficiency improvement of present-day processes both in energy and raw material use, the use of biomass as raw materials and finally the use of CO2 as raw material.
Although large catalytic refinery processes, Fluid Catalytic Cracking and Hydroprocessing, have continuously been improved for decades, our fundamental understanding of these processes is still far from complete. However, new spectroscopic and microscopic tools now allow the study of these processes at close to atomic scale while they are in operation. This shows that catalysts operating under real conditions behave completely different when compared to the commonplace testing conditions.
Also computational studies now allow for modeling these systems in realistic detail. Combining the lessons learned at atomic scale with kinetic models and understanding of mass transport, will create a multiscale understanding of these important materials and processes.
On the short term, this understanding will lead to more efficient use of our scarce raw materials. The use of biomass and later CO2 as raw materials, requires the development of new catalytic materials and processes, which will also benefit from these fundamental findings.
The inaugural speech of Professor Eelco Vogt will take place on May 9th, 16.15 hrs in the Academiegebouw of Utrecht University. The lecture is open to the public.
Dr. Eelco Vogt (1961), Distinguished Advisor Catalyst R&D at Albemarle Catalysts in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, was appointed a professor by special appointment in Refinery Catalysis at Utrecht University in November 2014. He conducts research on techniques for improving the sustainability of refinery processes via improved catalysts.
Vogt earned his PhD. at Utrecht University in 1988, under the guidance of Prof. J.W. Geus. For his dissertation he was awarded the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society’s Catalysis Prize.
Upon completion of his PhD., Dr. Vogt began working as a researcher at the catalysts business unit of Akzo Nobel, which was acquired by Albemarle Corporation in 2004. Dr. Vogt went on to become the corporation’s Global R&D Director for Catalysts. For the past two years, he has held the post of Distinguished Advisor, Catalysts R&D.
He is currently president of the Industrial Advisory Board (VIRAN) of the Dutch Institute for Catalysis Research (NIOK). He is also the chairman of the Topsector Chemistry’s program council ‘Chemical Conversion, Process Technology and Synthesis’, which last year published the roadmap ‘Making sustainable chemical products’. Besides, he was one of the members of the core team that formulated the roadmap ‘Catalysis, Key to a Sustainable Future’ commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, VIRAN and NIOK.
Albemarle Corporation, headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a premier specialty chemicals company with leading positions in attractive end markets around the world. The company employs around 6,900 people. Albemarle is focused on delivering differentiated, performance-based technologies that supply innovative and sustainable solutions to its customers in approximately 100 countries.
Albemarle develops, manufactures and markets technologically advanced and high value added products, including lithium and lithium compounds, bromine and derivatives, catalysts and surface treatment chemistries used in a wide range of applications including consumer electronics, flame retardants, metal processing, plastics, contemporary and alternative transportation vehicles, refining, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, construction and custom chemistry services. See also: http://www.albemarle.com/.