Crossing the academic-industrial barrier
The inGAP collaboration between two universities, one research institute and four industrial partners provides a good basis for exchange between different research groups. All our Ph.D. candidates stay at least six months at one of the industrial partners. Mahsa Zokaie and Madeleine Diskus went to Ineos and Haldor Topsøe, respectively.
Mahsa Zokaie has been studying the formation of various defects in SAPO-34, the preferred catalyst for olefin-production from methanol. This process is particularly well-known to the researchers at Ineos, who have developed the process to industrial scale.
For Mahsa, with a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering, it was very rewarding to see the industrial side of the process after 3 years at the University of Oslo. "During my Ph.D. studies at the University of Oslo I learnt chemistry", she says, and with a smile adds "finally the molecular understanding and industrial sized applications could be linked". She found that the senior scientists at Ineos, who could contribute with decades of experience in the field, were very interested in her results at the molecular level.
Coke are heavy aromatics that are stuck in the catalysts during reaction.
Mahsa has also been studying how the SAPO-34 material changes shape when small and large aromatic molecules are formed inside the cavities. This study also involved scientists at SINTEF and Mahsa reminds us that that this means two research institutions and one industrial partner has been involved. People working on the same subject but in different environment were brought together by inGAP. "I really enjoyed discussing my results and receiving input from all these different people - the result is an important publication in the field."
Madeleine Diskus did her Ph.D. at the University of Oslo and her industrial internship at Haldor Topsøe in Lyngby, Denmark. The aim of her work was to investigate the potential of model materials designed by atomic layer deposition (ALD) toward applications in catalysis research. The ALD technique was chosen as it offers a good control of the deposited materials composition and thickness toward the molecular level. Molybdenum based catalysts promoted with cobalt were selected as target materials, considering their important roles in various industrial processes such as hydrotreating processes. Particular attention was paid to understand the growth dynamics of the ALD processes involved and further to characterize the obtained materials carefully. This work was performed at University of Oslo while a systematic study of the materials catalytic activity as function of the thickness and composition of the films was achieved at Haldor Topsøe.
Schematic representation of the processed model materials: A) ALD deposition of an oxide layer in order to tune the diameter of the pores, B) ALD deposition of the catalyst, C) reduction and activation of the catalyst.
Despite the high cost of ALD technique, its use in catalysis research is increasing significantly. "I was surprised to see how interested the company was in my novel materials" Madeleine says, "even though I was working on model materials and not on catalysts on the industrial scale." At Haldor Topsøe, however, she saw that even such model techniques are of great interest to industry as they can give highly valuable information on how the reactions proceed at molecular level.
The collaboration was clearly a boost for both Madeleine and the company. This technique was completely novel for the company Haldor Topsøe and the results so interesting that they are planning to extend the project. For Madeleine working half a year in Haldor Topsøe provided the opportunity to test her materials in a real catalytic reaction: " Catalytic testing in the set-up at the company showed that the materials were active and we could definitely see the trends we were looking for. Eventually, we proved that ALD can be a powerful technique to design model materials for catalysis purposes!" Madeleine concludes.