Utilizing Catalysis for Sustainability Challenges

Reports state that power consumption has increased 16-fold, and atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased from 275 to 370 parts per million in the 20th century. If this trend continues it is estimated that in the 21st century the atmospheric CO2 concentration could grow to nearly 550 parts per million. If this happens, climate models show global warming - equivalent in magnitude to that of the last Ice Age - could arise1.

To rectify this issue, raw materials should be used efficiently. Therefore, materials and substances with pre-designed properties need to be invented, and new processes and chemical technologies developed. Catalysis could be crucial for all of the above, as well as an aid in pollution control and alternative energy technologies.

Many current leading catalysis research programmes examine the way catalysts can be used to tackle global energy challenges.

An increase in the global consumption of fossil fuels, an exponential growth in the world’s population, coupled with longer life spans and higher standards of living have resulted in higher per capita energy consumption2.

Current energy systems are not very efficient, with around 60 percent of chemical energy wasted. With growing energy consumption there has been a simultaneous rise in greenhouse gas emissions, causing serious concern for global climate change2,3.

Non-renewable fossil energy sources are being depleted across the world. There will be some major challenges relating to the provision of sustainable energy for the future such as:

  • Increasing energy efficiency
  • Designing more efficient solar energy cells
  • Reducing environmental pollution
  • Developing sustainable methods for the quick production of renewable fuel sources
  • Supplying water, clean fuels, and electricity to match the growing world demand
  • Expanding renewable energy-based electricity generation
  • Eliminating energy-intensive wasteful manufacturing methods
  • Cultivating sustainable organic material development2

As global energy demands increase, it is vital to establish more sustainable production practices for the future. Catalysis has the potential to play a role in tackling the challenges currently faced for sustainable energy development.

Addressing the Associated Challenges of Catalysis Research

Research and development within catalysis creates many challenges due to the numerous measurements that have to be obtained to understand the behaviour of the catalyst itself.

Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez – Chair of Catalysis Engineering at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences - and his research team are currently working to address the global energy crisis. Topics of current interest include natural gas functionalization, carbon dioxide valorization, biomass to chemicals and fuels, the manufacture of specialty chemicals, and the rational understanding of catalyst scale up. www.ace.ethz.ch/en/home.

Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez Sorption laboratory

Figure 1. Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez Sorption laboratory

With the materials science instrumentation market expanding, the choice of providers is growing, making the task of choosing the right provider ever more difficult.

It is important to select a high quality -vendor with years of market experience and an understanding and appreciation of their customer's needs.

Such instrument companies can become strategic partners and offer:

  • Improved support levels via a technically strong support network across the globe
  • High level of technical expertise via their own R&D teams
  • In-house design, manufacturing and engineering capabilities with the ability to provide highly customized devices

For over seventeen years Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez has used a range of instruments from Micromeritics. The instruments that Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez and his team choose to use include the AccuPyc® to determine density, AutoChem® 2920 to quantify chemisorption characteristics, 3Flex, ASAP® 2020, Tristar 3030 and AutoPore® to determine pore size and porosity, and finally the PID Effi and PID Microactivity Reference Reactors to access catalytic performance and selectivity. Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez chose to partner with Micromeritics for two reasons; firstly because of instrument quality and reliability, and secondly due to the high level of scientific support available.

My service provider has a balance between offering very reliable instrumentation, and employing skilled personnel who are always striving for new applications, meaning that we can work as a synergistic partnership.

Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez, Chair of Catalysis Engineering, Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences

The skilled personnel have helped him address his research challenges.

A big portion of our work is devoted to the design of improved catalytic materials, and for that we need reliable instruments and a creative research team. Micromeritics helps us to solve research challenges through its personalized support. We often collaborate with Micromeritics application scientists, and on various occasions with the help of their technical knowledge, this has led to top-level research, as reflected by the high-impact journals in which it has appeared

Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez, Chair of Catalysis Engineering, Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences

Dr Alan McCue is a Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, working in the team with Professor. James Anderson. The team examine methods where they can improve the activity of relatively cheap base metals, such as copper for hydrogenation reactions, with the aid of small quantities of precious metals such as palladium or platinum.

Within academia, robust results are expected for publication in high impact journals, and partnering with an instrument provider with technical expertise and reliable instrumentation can be pivotal to the research process. For Dr McCue one challenge he has to overcome is the research budgets, which are generally tighter than in industry.

Dr. McCue’s laboratory has relied greatly on Micromeritics in the past. The lab uses the instruments to measure catalysts activity and selectivity (PID Microactivity Reactor), hydrogen and carbon monoxide chemisorption (ASAP 2020), surface area, mesoporosity and pore volume (TriStar®). Partnering with Micromeritics, provided Dr. McCue with complete confidence due to the dependable instrumentation and support on offer.

Generally all companies will tell you that they offer a good support system, however, it is not until you work with them that you can truly understand the quality they offer. We find that almost 50% of our purchase is not just based on the instrument itself, but the expertise and support we receive after purchase. We find our service provider to be one of the most efficient companies that we deal with, and their technical expertise is the distinguishing factor that truly sets them apart.

Dr Alan McCue, Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen

High-performance instrumentation does come with the risk of diagnostic challenges, which may require an onsite visit from a company engineer. This could be very expensive and impact designated budgets. However for Dr McCue, this is not a cause for concern as he is assured of backup from his service provider, without an onsite visit when diagnostic problems occur, maintaining the costs to a minimum.

If we have ever encountered a challenge with the instrumentation, within a phone call or email a knowledgeable and experienced engineer is on hand to diagnose, without an onsite visit. As budgets in academia are tighter than in an industrial laboratory, onsite visits could be problematic. However, the support staff employed by our service provider know their instrumentation inside out, so you can be assured you are receiving the best expertise possible to quickly and efficiently diagnose and fix problems over the phone should they arise.

Dr Alan McCue, Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen


Society has to be well-prepared to meet the needs for a more sustainable future. Catalysis is a vital field that could offer scientific and technological foundations for cleaner, more economical and more efficient options. In catalysis research, consistent results are crucial for the successful achievement of commercial developments and trials.

It is important to consider the precision and reliability of data produced by the instrument, as well as instrument longevity, usability, and depreciation costs when investing in analytical instrumentation for academic and industrial catalysis research. It is also important to partner with a service provider capable of offering more than just a product. An instrument supplier who has in-depth and in-house expertise available can assist in solving challenges swiftly and efficiently, providing improved results in a shorter time scale.

References and Further Reading

  1. Brookhaven National Laboratory. (2014). Catalysis and Energy Science.
  2. Song, C. (2014). Global Energy Challenges and Role of Catalysis for Sustainable Energy.
  3. World Meteorological Organization. (2014). WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Micromeritics Instrument Corporation.

For more information on this source, please visit Micromeritics Instrument Corporation.


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