The 1st of June marked the start of the CARENA project (CAtalytic REactors based on New mAterials) a large EU-funded collaborative project to create technologies enabling efficient conversion of light alkanes and CO2 into higher value chemicals.
To reduce the dependency of the European community on imported oil, the CARENA project will promote the implementation of catalytic membrane reactors in the European chemical industry.
Benefits to the chemical industry include:
• Create new possibilities for the use of cheaper, less reactive raw materials.
• Reduce environmental impact, energy and raw materials consumption by increasing process selectivity, creating innovative process flow schemes and reducing the number of process steps.
• Reduced process risks due to the use of these new and/or more efficiently integrated processes.
To address both scientific and technological challenges, CARENA brings together a strong European consortium with top level universities, R&D centres, industrial technology providers, chemical producers and innovative SME’s. Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, is one of the British partners involved in the collaboration. Based in south Oxfordshire, the Diamond synchrotron is a particle accelerator that produces extremely bright light in the form of infrared, ultraviolet and X-rays. It is used by scientists and engineers in a wide range of fields to reveal the atomic and molecular detail of all manner of objects, from proteins for potential drug targets to chemical compounds for the next best catalyst.
Members of the CARENA collaboration during the first meeting
in Bergen, the Netherlands, July 2011
Diamond will take the lead role in the CARENA project in developing cells for studies of structural properties of catalysts under operating conditions. Subsequently, in situ X-ray absorption spectroscopy will be applied to characterise catalytic materials and membranes provided by other members of the consortium. Additionally, X-ray diffraction techniques (powder, single crystal and surface) will be used throughput the project to study the structure of palladium-membranes and structural defects of metal organic framework materials and proton conductors.
Head of the Industrial Liaison Group at Diamond Light Source, Dr Elizabeth Shotton says, “The first stage of the project is to develop novel materials for membranes and catalysts. The Diamond synchrotron will be used to reveal the structural characteristics of these membrane and catalytic materials to help determine the best approach. Diamond scientists specialise in the application of cutting-edge synchrotron techniques to complex analytical problems; the characterisations done in this project will be carried out under real-time conditions using a new sample environment that we will be developing as part of the project. Being part of the CARENA collaboration will help Diamond to develop its catalyst research and increase our knowledge of new materials.”
In the past decade the world has experienced a widening gap between the predicted demand for oil and known reserves fuelled particularly by the growth of new economies like China and India. High oil price may particularly affect the competitiveness of the chemical industry in Europe, relying for more than 70% on imported oil. In a global environment with higher cost of naphtha from crude oil and higher cost of CO2, the chemical industry may need to turn to novel feeds such as natural gas, coal and biomass to stay competitive. Technologies that are able to use as feedstocks light alkanes (C1 – C4) and CO2 are needed. However, light alkanes and CO2, in contrast to long-chain hydrocarbons from oil, are stable molecules that are difficult to activate and transform directly and selectively to added value products. Radical scientific and technological improvements are thus required to enable efficient and competitive routes for their use.
Process Intensification plays a crucial role in overcoming these challenges. Development of catalytic membrane reactors opens new pathways for materials chemistry and processes, as recently reported by the European Platform for Sustainable chemical industry (SusChem). According to the European Roadmap Process Intensification published in 2008 and based on the contribution of more than 50 international experts in the field, membrane reactors are one of the leading process intensification technologies. Well known examples are reactors using selective membranes to remove one reactant from the reaction medium and non-selective membrane reactors, which supply reactants in a regulated way or create a well defined reaction interface. The development of membrane bioreactors in the field of water treatment and effluent during the last fifteen years shows that success is often the sequel of stakeholders' decision and of the efforts made to serve the stated objectives.