Zeolites are solids with tiny holes and channels which allow molecules in and out according to their size and shape. This property is used in methanol-to-olefins technology: methanol diffuses into the zeolite and is converted into ethane and propene which are small enough to escape. These products are the basis for a whole range of chemical products, particularly plastics.
With in-situ XRD at the synchrotron in Grenoble we are able to see how pores inside the framwork (solid balls and lines) fill with products (white "cloud") during reaction.
Olefins are currently produced from oil, which is becoming increasingly expensive and scarce. MTO technology offers a flexible and specific route from raw materials like gas and biomass to the high value olefins. Researchers at UiO, SINTEF, NTNU and Ineos have played a major role in the development of the process, using the SAPO-34 catalyst, which is currently being commercialized in China.
Research at inGAP is focused on extending the lifetime of the catalyst under industrial conditions. We have used state of the art techniques including multi-technique in situ studies of the reaction, computational studies and isotope substitution to reveal expansion in the catalyst driven by the buildup of reaction intermediates inside the zeolite channels, the precise molecules which cause expansion, the structure of the methanol-SAPO-34 complex, migration of the active silicon atoms and variations in catalyst behavior in different parts of a reactor bed. Future research will be focused on structural defects in the catalyst which are often the most important sites for Catalysis.