Researchers Refine Reforming Catalysts

Dec. 18, 2017
A series of new catalysts could transform the processes used to convert carbon dioxide and methane into the syngas.

A series of new catalysts could transform the processes used to convert carbon dioxide and methane into the syngas that is a major intermediary in producing methanol and many other commodity chemicals, hope researchers in the department of chemical and process engineering at the University of Surrey, Guildford, U.K.

Catalyst Development

Figure 1. A new family of advanced materials holds promise for the catalysis of reforming reactions. Source: University of Surrey, Dept. of Chemical and Process Engineering.

The researchers’ catalysts suit two of the main routes currently used to react carbon dioxide and methane: bi-reforming of methane (BRM), which uses carbon dioxide and steam in the reaction; and the dry reforming of methane (DRM) which uses oxygen instead of steam.

Currently, nickel-based catalysts on alumina supports generally are commercially favored for both approaches. However, these catalysts are susceptible to deactivation via sintering that produces carbon deposition on their surface, which can cover active sites.

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To enhance performance and reduce sintering, the U.K. team turned to cerium oxide, which studies have shown greatly improves the performance of nickel-based catalysts, and tin, which research indicates increases nickel dispersion over the support surface and, thus, reduces sintering.

The researchers created a series of advanced Ni-Sn/Al2O3 and Ni-Sn/CeO2-Al2O3 catalysts for the chemical recycling of carbon dioxide via both BMR and DMR. By varying catalyst structure and composition, the team has uncovered ways to maximize the catalytic reaction and the selectivity towards syngas in the two processes. More details appear in an article in Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.

“We are patenting a broad range of catalysts. It is in fact, a new family of advanced materials with different active-phase loadings and chemical structures,” notes Harvey Arellano-Garcia, head of research in the department.

“The remaining challenges are mainly scalability and testing in larger pilot plant scale. The great challenge we have already overcome is long-term stability of the catalysts; they are extremely robust and so ideal for long-term operations,” says Tomas Ramirez Reina, leader of the department’s catalysis unit. “The next step is the scaling up from lab study to pilot plant scale and we are aiming to expand our fundamental research towards a direct application in the chemical industry,” he adds.

Three undisclosed companies from the energy and catalyst sectors are already showing great interest in the department’s work, says Reina.

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