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Enabling synthesis of fine chemicals through heterogenized catalysis

Department of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science

About the Project

Catalysts are substances that can speed up chemical reactions and/or increase reaction selectivity without consuming themselves. Relative to non-catalytic processes, catalysed reactions perform through more energy efficient routes, in which reactants are able to be used more efficiently.

There are mainly two classes of catalysts, homogeneous and heterogeneous. Homogeneous catalysts are mostly used in the fine chemical industry and have the advantage of usually being highly active and selective under mild conditions and with well-defined reaction mechanisms. The major drawback of this technology is in the laborious and expensive procedures needed to separate the catalyst from the reaction products, which, in many cases, is unfeasible or may lead to catalyst degradation with consequent waste of valuable material. In the past decades much effort has gone into the immobilisation of homogeneous catalytic functions onto solid supports, through a process called heterogenization, which has potential benefits of (i) easier catalyst handling, separation and work-up; (ii) easier catalyst recovery and reusability; (iii) possibility to run continuous processes in packed bed reactors, hence more process flexibility. One of the challenges that has slowed down or hindered development and implementation of this technology is the lack of understanding and ability to measure key physico-chemical aspects of these systems.

The aim of this project is to investigate and enable chemical reactions occurring over immobilised homogeneous catalysts (e.g., organocatalysts, organo-metallics, bio-catalysts) with performances comparable to those of the homogeneous counterpart. Emphasis will be placed on unravelling the key aspects underpinning the performances of such materials in chemical reactions of current interest in the areas of fine chemicals, with a focus on greener chemical processes.

The project is of experimental nature and will involve: (a) synthesis of catalytic materials (catalysts will be obtained by immobilising the homogeneous catalytic function onto solid supports through suitable synthetic procedures); (b) advanced characterisation using surface-sensitive spectroscopic tools (XPS, Raman, infrared); (c) testing in lab-scale chemical reactors; (d) novel applications of low-field, bench-top Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) techniques (spectroscopy, diffusion and relaxation) to unravel unexplored aspects of the behaviour of reactive fluids confined in these catalytic materials, including adsorption, diffusion and molecular dynamics at the surface.

Funding Notes

This project is available to self-funded students.

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