A new spin-off from Oxford University—Oxford Catalysts—has developed novel catalyst technology for the petroleum refining and petrochemical industry, selected areas of the fuel cell industry, and the processing of waste biogas.
The founders have developed catalysts that can be used to transform waste methane into hydrogen for use with fuel cells, or into Fischer-Tropsch liquid fuels (GTL or CTL) that can be used for engines or heating and are easy to transport.
Further applications include the partial oxidation of natural gas and removal of sulfur from crude oil.
The basis of the technology is an innovative method for catalyst preparation that enables a catalytically active component(s) or its precursor(s) to be deposited on a support in a controlled manner. Accordingly, certain properties of the catalyst, for example its activity and/or selectivity, may be controlled.
This can result in catalysts that are extremely active, selective and long lasting, thereby reducing the cost associated with the processes.
Oxford Catalysts will also exploit catalyst technology that produces hydrogen from a liquid fuel containing methanol, starting from room temperature.
In this particular process, a reaction between methanol and a peroxide is initiated by contacting the reactants in the liquid phase in the presence of the catalyst. The reaction occurs in the same reaction medium. Thus, the methanol and peroxide reactants can come into contact with one another in the same medium and not across a membrane, such as a fuel cell membrane.
The technology is capable of being miniaturized for portable fuel cell applications—e.g., for laptops—and has already received significant commercial interest.
The company is based on technology which has been developed over 18 years at Oxford by Dr Tiancun Xiao, of the Wolfson Catalysis Centre and the Chemistry Department, and Professor Malcolm Green, of the Inorganic Chemistry Department. Isis Innovation, the University’s wholly-owned technology transfer arm, holds a series of patent applications on the intellectual property rights and has licensed them to the Company.
In April, Dr Xiao received a 2005 Innovation Award from the Carbon Trust for his research into catalysts that extract hydrogen from methane and that work particularly well in low-pressure conditions and are suitable for widespread distributed use.