Upstarts: Maximizing Catalysts’ Benefits

Summer 2020

CatalystHeterogeneous catalysts are used in industry to transform raw materials into products, including gasoline and fertilizers, and to remove pollutants from automobile exhaust. While expensive, catalysts offer significant benefits. They hasten chemical reactions and enable these processes to run at lower temperatures, which reduces operating costs.

Until now, determining the best operating conditions for catalysts has meant conducting hundreds of experiments in which temperature, pressure, concentration, and catalyst composition all are changed systematically—a process that is time-consuming, costly, and may not yield answers. “If we can quickly identify optimal operating conditions for catalysts, we can maximize their potential benefits,” says Marc Donohue, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Donohue and research scientist Gregory Aranovich have developed a way to improve the process’ efficiency while lowering costs. By identifying conditions where adsorption compression occurs and then operating catalytic reactions under these conditions, reactions can run up to 20 times faster and be carried out at lower temperatures.

Donohue and Aranovich are now working to commercialize their technology.

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