Creating sustainable catalysts for the production of biorenewable chemicals

The Process Intensification Group is based within the School of Engineering at Newcastle University, UK.

The Group’s research is focused on the development and refinement of intensified processes using techniques whereby process rates are enhanced by orders of magnitude versus traditional processes.

These process enhancements offer equivalent reductions in equipment size and operational and capital costs. The majority of the Group’s research centers on ‘green’ chemistry, biorenewable fuel and chemical production and CO2 capture and conversion.

This Group has also been working with Asynt’s MultiCell-PLUS High-Pressure Reactor to develop a new generation of environmentally friendly catalysts designed to produce biorenewable chemicals.

The importance of sustainable, affordable catalysis materials

A significant number of industrial processes depend on catalysts that include expensive precious metals or metals obtained from areas where there is a conflict or political instability.

The Process Intensification Group’s primary goal is to develop less hazardous, more cost-effective catalysts that demonstrate similar functionality and performance to those currently available. The Group is also working to ensure that synthesis is kept straightforward and is easily scalable.

Dr. Fernando Russo Abegão, a Lecturer from the Process Intensification Group, elaborates on its work:

“In order to develop our new generation of catalysts we needed to be able to screen a high number of samples, often at high pressure and temperature. In the past we only had isolated autoclaves in the lab.”

“These weren’t ideal for screening as they required large amounts of catalysts for testing, and we could only perform one reaction at a time. To be effective we required an instrumental set-up that could provide a fast turnaround, allowing us to quickly test, rationalise, and identify optimal catalyst formulations”.

Dr Zongyuan Zhu from the Process Intensification Group, University of Newcastle, UK.

Dr Zongyuan Zhu from the Process Intensification Group, University of Newcastle, UK. Image Credit: Asynt

Dr. Kamelia Boodhoo, a Reader in Sustainable Process Technology, continues:

“For screening of heterogeneous catalysts, mass transfer can play a big role in the process. We wanted to ensure that we selected a high-pressure reactor system that was well stirred to keep the particles in suspension at all times, reducing mass transfer limitations.”

“By doing this, it enabled us to screen the catalyst intrinsic activity, rather than having the results masked by mass transfer limitations.”

“For some of the reactions we investigate, accurate temperature control is also very important – a few degrees under the desired temperature and the reaction won’t progress fast enough, a few degrees above, and we experience unwanted side reactions. It is therefore important to stay within the correct temperature ranges to ensure optimal catalyst and reaction performance.”

“We looked at various commercially available high-pressure reactors and chose the MultiCell-PLUS system from Asynt as it incorporated parallel agitated reactors with automatic temperature and pressure control. Using this versatile, high-performance system we have already successfully developed a new generation of ‘greener’ catalysts for dehydration of C5 and C6 sugars into furans.”

“Looking to the future, our plan is also to use the MultiCell-PLUS for screening of solvents and process conditions”.

The Asynt Multicell PLUS – A parallel high pressure reactor

Creating sustainable catalysts for the production of biorenewable chemicals

Image Credit: Asynt

The Multicell-PLUS has been designed to offer scientists a flexible, highly customizable device suitable for the high throughput screening of chemical reactions under high pressure.

The reactor empowers users to leverage a diverse array of experimental conditions in each of its eight reaction cells, making it ideal for investigations around optimization and screening.

The Multicell-PLUS is built from 316 stainless steel, and its standard unit operates up to 50 barg and 200 ºC.

Options are also available to accommodate more demanding and corrosive chemistries, including alternative alloys and increased operational conditions up to 200 barg and 300 ºC.

The instrument’s motor-driven magnetically coupled overhead stirring option is well suited to reactions involving viscous reaction mixtures or particulate suspensions.

The Multicell-PLUS high-pressure reactor sets a new benchmark for all-round accessibility, operator safety and ease-of-use thanks to its integrated safety-locking mechanism and adjustable support lifting platform.

Creating sustainable catalysts for the production of biorenewable chemicals

Image Credit: Asynt

About Asynt

Asynt was formed in July 2003 with the aim to develop, supply and support new, sustainable and novel products central to the laboratory.

Since inception, they have developed the DrySyn range (a clean, safe alternative to oil baths and heating mantles) both reducing costs in purchasing / disposal of oil and a 35% reduction in energy consumption.

They also take pride in reducing laboratory water consumption using their air cooled CondenSyn units and highly effective water circulators.

The current team has over 70 years of experience in the scientific sector and work hard to help their customers find the best possible solutions for their requirements.

Key product lines available include Asynt ReactoMate Controlled Lab Reactors, the DrySyn heating and cooling blocks, and tools from Grant, IKA, Julabo, Huber, Porvair, Telstar and Vacuubrand amongst others. With a broad range of scientific equipment and consumables ranging from bench top laboratory scale to pilot plant and beyond both in the chemical and biological sectors.

Asynt’s Managing Director, Martyn Fordham, spent almost twenty years dealing with the requirements of research chemists (at the outset just custom glassblowing) before forming Asynt. For Martyn, having the right staff who are both knowledgeable and dedicated to customer support has been the key to Asynt’s successful growth.


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Last updated: Apr 21, 2022 at 1:13 PM

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