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UK Catalysis Hub

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Impact and Industrial Interactions

The scientific program has already had extensive impact including skills development for the research associates in the hub, a large number of publications and many scientific developments including patents. Below are three ‘impact highlights’ from the UK catalysis Hub.

Selective Polymerisation

The research investigated using the Hub funding remains at an early stage as would be expected with EPSRC funded fundamental research. Nonetheless, the target area – making useful products from carbon dioxide, is one in which there is potential for both environmental and commercial impact. It is relevant to note that there is a UK based company, Econic technologies, formed on the basis of earlier catalytic science from C. K. Williams which has commercialized catalysts for carbon dioxide/epoxide copolymerization (http://www.econic-technologies.com). The product polycarbonate polyols are attracting increasing industrial attention as components in polyurethanes, a large commodity sector of the polymer market.  Thus, the discoveries of the EPSRC Catalysis Hub funding are relevant to an emerging sector in both the polymer and polymerization catalysis sectors.   There is also a demonstrated environmental benefit to using carbon dioxide to make polymers – in effect there is a ‘triple win’ as for every tonne of carbon dioxide used to make polymers, there is a three-tonne saving in CO2 emissions. This arises because the carbon dioxide replaces epoxide in the conventional process and thus by avoiding petrochemical useage there are emissions savings also. The early-stage research in catalysis funded by the UK Catalysis Hub has allowed a broader range of polymers to be prepared from CO2.  This is important because in future equivalent cost and environmental benefits could be envisaged in sectors beyond polyurethanes. For example, some of the polymers prepared using the switchable catalysis show good elastomeric behaviour so may be suitable as replacements for commodity materials like SBS (styrene-butadiene-styrene).  

Another impact area that has been developed thanks to the Catalysis Hub funding has been the outreach and demonstration of the concept to the general public.  The Imperial College London/Oxford team have participated in two large-scale outreach activities – the imperial College London Festival which attracted >10,000 members of the public in May 2015 and 2016.  The Williams team presented the science behind carbon dioxide to polymers, including demonstrating a Co2-emittting ‘factory’ (a shoe box loaded with dry-ice and water) which was very popular, especially with families.  It allowed the public to imagine the way that carbon dioxide emissions may one day be able to be transformed into useful products. The festival was held over two days and the group also participated in a schools outreach event each year.  Furthermore, Charlotte Williams has presented the carbon dioxide catalysis on the Radio 4 programme, ‘Costing the earth’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b081lkm1) which was broadcast in November 2016.

Autonomous repair

Research funded by the EPSRC UK Catalysis Hub in the Wass research group at the University of Bristol has been developing catalyst systems to embed in carbon fibre composite materials to impart self-healing functionality.  This work has received wide media coverage (see www.epsrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/selfhealingaircraftwings) and this attention has enabled engagement with industry across a range of sectors to develop real usable technology.  Although at a nascent stage of technology translation, materials have been exchanged with C6n, a supplier of composite events pavilions (interaction initiated via giving a presentation at a KTN networking event for the constructions industry); Dassi, a manufacturer of high performance road bikes; Acconia, who have wide interests n the use of composites for infrastructure projects; IHI, who have interest in the automotive supply chain; and GKN, a manufacturer of aerospace components.  In due course, we intend to develop more substantial collaborative projects with these companies, enabled by the University of Bristol’s involvement with the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry, and more information regarding market size and penetration can be supplied at that point.

Furthermore, this project has been widely disseminated for outreach activities, providing an inspirational and unusual example of catalysis in action. Wass has presented this science to over one hundred and fifty secondary teachers via the Prince’s Teaching Institute, over five hundred secondary school children via various lecture tours, over two hundred senior industrials via a TTI Vanguard conference on ‘Autonomy’ in Brooklyn, N.Y. and more widely in the pan-European ‘Science in Schools’ journal.

Neutrons in Catalysis (Hub Harwell)

PCCP cov

In association with ISIS the Hub held a workshop on, “Neutron Techniques in Catalysis” in Nov 2014. There were a mix of delegates from industry and academia, with over fifty attendees. This helped to provide training and knowledge transfer to catalytic community who may previously not have used neutrons leading to a range of new users including Johnson Matthey, Academics from Southampton university and UCL.

Following this workshop scientists from ISIS, The Catalysis Hub and Johnson Matthey proposed and led a special issue of PCCP edition, “Neutron scattering in catalysis and energy materials.

Industrial Importance: Use of Neutrons for catalysis research has led to industrial relevance.

NOx emissions from the energy and transport sectors represent a major hazard to human health and this has been the focus of significant industrial and academic research.  One of the important processes in the armoury available for emissions control from vehicles, large and small, power stations, ships, trains and non-road machinery is the selective catalytic reduction reaction (SCR), in which a reductant such as ammonia, urea or hydrocarbon fuel, is injected into the exhaust to reduce the NO and NO2 (NOx) to harmless nitrogen.  The use of urea (which is broken down to NH3 under operating conditions) as a reductant in SCR is a key successful strategy in R&D in diesel emissions control R&D and is already used on modern vehicles, but will become much more prevalent in the near future.

The typical catalysts used for urea (and ammonia) SCR include those based on vanadium oxide, iron supported on a zeolite, and copper supported on a zeolite (Cu/zeo).  The Cu/zeo materials have proven to be extremely active for SCR, and also demonstrate excellent long term stability, and are therefore often the prime choice for use in the catalytic SCR system.  Research projects carried out at Johnson Matthey, as well as elsewhere, have highlighted the excellent performance of small pore zeolites, such as chabazite (CHA) combined with Cu for the SCR reaction.  With such small pore systems it is very important to understand not only the intrinsic NH3-NO reaction kinetics and the chemistry of the active sites, but also the diffusion processes that might be important in the design of an optimum SCR catalyst.
Presented by Johnson Matthey: 14th International Conference on Applications of Quasielastic Neutron Scattering, 5-8th September, 2016, Potsdam, Germany (I. Hitchcock, Measuring diffusion of ammonia in zeolite NOx emissions control catalysts).

Industrial Interactions

Input from Industry has been a recognised part of the UK Catalysis Hub and can be traced back to the original Town Meeting held in the Royal Society where initial projects were formulated. This dialogue has been ensured by the establishment of an Industrial Advisory Panel, which provide comment and feedback to the Management of the Hub on a regular basis. Beyond this formal mechanism, industrial participation in Hub conferences and meetings is encouraged and has grown.

Perhaps the most tangible evidence of Industrial input is participation in the Projects funded under the auspices of the Hub. Industrial support has been provided for projects across all of the Hub themes. In the Call for Projects in 2015 this was seen to continue to increase and indeed projects are more likely to be funded if they have Industrial support.

In the initial exemplar projects funded one project had direct industrial support despite the Catalysis Hub as a whole having range of industrial support, in the first new call of the projects funded, thirteen funded projects (20) had letters of support or involved industrial researchers and in the call for projects in 2016, sixteen of the funded (26) projects had industrial involvement.

This industrial support can take a number of forms including cash or in-kind contribution, named CoIs or access to facilities and expertise. Industrial input has also shaped the thinking behind some of the new themes identified.

Projects funded diag


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