21. March 2024

Ferdi Schüth | Laureates Lecture

Heterogeneous Catalysis – a Key Topic in Chemistry between Basic Research and Commercial Application


Most of the production processes in the chemical industry rely on solid catalysts, which reduce the temperature of reactions, direct them to the desired products, or make them possible at all. Also for the transformation of our energy systems, heterogeneous catalysis is a key technology. In spite of the tremendous importance of heterogeneous catalysis and the progress reached in understanding the molecular level processes, the discovery of new catalysts is still largely empirically driven. High-throughput methods have helped in the last two decades to accelerate discovery with novel experimental and data science methods. Such processes are by now industrial practice, with hte – the high throughput experimentation company in Heidelberg, founded by the speaker, being market leader with now approximately 350 employees.

A more recent development is also on the brink of becoming commercially relevant: mechanocatalysis, which means the use of catalysts in chemical transformations under input of mechanical energy – mostly in ball mills – opens up new options for more sustainable chemical production. Reactions proceed under milder conditions and often with higher yields of target products, and several examples will be highlighted, including the possibility to run the Haber-Bosch-process, needed to provide ammonia fertilizers to the world, at room temperature and atmospheric pressure instead of at around 450 °C and 200 bar. Also in this field start-up companies are commencing their operations, and it is foreseen that such approaches will enter commercial practice.

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