Catalysis is an enabling technology that facilitates chemical transformations. Chemical transformations are used throughout our society and are key in the transition to sustainable systems for transportation, chemical and materials production, and energy conversion. The Competence Centre for Catalysis collects and coordinates academic and industrial expertise to unlock the potential of catalytic techniques for the transformative needs of society.
Heterogeneous catalysis is key in the formation of sustainable, energy-efficient, and fossil-free energy systems. The centre contributes to establish new energy-efficient processes and increase the energy efficiency of existing processes. The targeted energy systems are sketched in the figure.
The centre targets sustainable systems for transportation, chemical and materials production, and energy conversion. The feedstocks for energy carriers and chemicals in the centre are biomass, plastics, carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Sustainable hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower. Biomass is converted to biooil, which needs to be catalytically processed for use as fuels or feedstocks for chemical production. One key process is hydrodeoxygenation where oxygen is removed from the biooil in a thermal catalytic process. The products from these processes are stock chemicals or fuels for transportation. The fuels are different depending on the mode of transport.
Using hydrogen in fuel cell applications yields electricity through an electrocatalytic process with only water as reaction product. Emissions from hydrocarbon-based fuels in lean-burn and hybrid electric applications contain carbon dioxide and toxic gases such as nitrogen oxides. The toxic gases are controlled using thermal catalysis. Carbon dioxide can be captured and hydrogenated to methanol and longer hydrocarbons using thermal catalysis or electrocatalysis. Moreover, carbon dioxide is captured in plants and through photosynthesis photo-catalytically converted to biomass. The sketched energy system is circular without net formation of greenhouse gases.
Catalysis is fundamental in the future energy system as described in the figure. Efficient catalysts are needed in production of fuels, in fuel cell-based production of electricity, in production of chemicals and materials, and for control of greenhouse gases and emissions. To achieve the future sustainable energy system, there is a need for new, energy-efficient catalysts. As compared to existing materials, the new catalytic materials must have higher activity (lower energy consumption), higher selectivity (improved yield with less by-products), and higher durability (higher utilization of resources).
The targeted energy systems in the figure concern the catalytic control of greenhouse gases and emissions, the catalytic transformation of biomass to energy carriers and stock chemicals, the electrocatalytic conversion of hydrogen to electricity in fuel cells, and catalysis for energy-efficient chemical processes. The project portfolio within the centre is selected from an energy systems analysis perspective. Energy systems analyses, including energy-economy modelling, are useful to identify the environmental performance and cost-competitiveness of future energy carriers such as electrofuels, biofuels and hydrogen used in fuel cells. In the centre, the targeted catalytic processes, and energy carriers, are studied from a global perspective to assess their role in future energy systems. The project portfolio includes research projects within the following four main research areas.
Catalysis for reduction of greenhouse gases and emissions
The transition to a fossil-independent transport sector generates new challenges with respect to greenhouse gases and emissions. The use of bio-based fuels and electrofuels in hybrid electric engines, and electric engines with electricity from fuel cells and batteries, for transportation will substantially increase during the upcoming years. The transition to electrification and increasingly more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines that produce colder exhausts increases the demands on the exhaust after-treatment systems.
Catalysis for synthesis and production of renewable energy carriers
The transition to a fossil-independent transport sector is key in counteracting global warming. To realize this climate policy goal, progress is made in the transport sector to replace the present large-scale use of fossil fuels with different biobased fuels and electrification. By using biofuels and electrification it has been estimated that the emissions of GHG can 2040 be reduced by 90% with respect to the levels 2018. In this scenario, 75% of the reduction is thanks to biofuels.
Catalysis for fuel cells and electrocatalysis
Fuel cells convert chemical energy stored in a fuel directly to electricity and are projected to become key components in future sustainable fossil-free energy systems thanks to their high efficiency and potential for zero emissions. Today, the first generations of fuel cell vehicles are in use and fuel cells are expected to provide CO2-free and clean energy in several transport applications, such as heavy-duty and marine. However, for large-scale use, the fuel cells need to become cheaper, become more durable and be composed of sustainable materials. To a large extent, these issues are related to the catalysts on the electrodes of the fuel cell. In the centre, we develop new and sustainable catalyst electrode materials and study life-time degradation in fuel cells.
A current line of development is to produce energy carriers with fossil-free electricity from primarily weather-dependent intermittent power sources, such as wind and solar. Hydrogen can be produced in this way by electrolysis of water. In the transport sector, hydrogen can be used as fuel in combustion engines or fuel cells. By allowing gaseous hydrogen, produced by electrolysis of water, to catalytically react further with carbon dioxide, e.g. methane, methanol or other types of fuels with higher energy density and better storage properties than hydrogen can be produced. Future challenges in this area are to increase the activity and selectivity of the catalyst making the process more energy efficient.
Catalysis for energy-efficient chemical processes
Catalysis means that activation barriers for chemical reactions are lowered and that the reactions in this way take place in a more energy-efficient manner. Catalytic technology is of central importance for environmentally friendly energy technologies and industrial chemical processes. New, more efficient catalysts for industrial processes and for environmentally friendly technologies are expected to reduce energy use, since less energy is needed for heating up the reactants. In the chemical industry, catalysis is a key component to produce many chemicals.
However, the catalytic process may also result in biproduct formation. The biproducts can often be used in other processes but must be separated and purified. There are different separation techniques, but common for all of them are that they require large amounts of energy. If the catalytic process could be made more efficient with higher selectivity, there would be less need for separation and thereby large energy savings could be made. It is also critical to use renewable feedstocks for chemical production, which requires that new catalytic routes are developed. In the centre, we study reactions important in the chemical industry, with the aim to increase the low-temperature activity as well as selectivity using renewable feedstocks