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Oxford Catalysts Purchases Microreactors to Hasten Commercialization of HDS and FT Catalysts

As part of a planned expansion of its development facilities, Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high-throughput screening microreactors. The first, due to be delivered at the end of February 2008, will be used to speed up the commercialization of Oxford Catalysts’ hydro-desulfurization (HDS) catalysts. The second, due to be delivered at the end of March 2008, will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquids (GTL) and other Fischer-Tropsch (FT) processes.

HDS encompasses a range of catalyst-driven processes used to produce cleaner fuels—including gasoline, ultra low sulfur diesel, jet fuel and bunker fuel—from sulfur-containing feedstocks. Oxford Catalysts is working to develop a range of HDS catalysts that will allow refiners to use higher sulfur-containing, lower-priced sour crudes yet still maintain the quality of its products. It is also working to develop HDS catalysts that offer competitive performance or catalyst activity while containing significantly lower amounts of expensive metals such as molybdenum.

FT catalysts are typically based on cobalt and usually need to be modified by the addition of precious metal promoters in order to obtain the desired activity. Oxford Catalysts’ technology allows the cobalt catalysts to be produced without the need for precious metal promoters, while maintaining strong performance.

Oxford Catalysts, a spin-off from research at Oxford University (earlier post), has two key platform technologies. The first is for a novel class of catalysts made from metal carbides which can match or exceed the benefits of traditional precious metal catalysts for applications such as HDS and FT at a lower cost.

The second platform—peroxide reaction catalysts—relates to chemical reactions involving a liquid containing a renewable fuel, such as methanol, ethanol or glycerol, and dilute hydrogen peroxide. The company’s novel catalyst can be used to release hydrogen gas from this liquid, instantaneously starting from room temperature. This Instant Hydrogen technology has the potential to significantly accelerate the commercial adoption of fuel cells in the portable and other mobile markets, according to the company.

Another of the company’s catalysts can be used to produce steam at temperatures between 100ºC and 600ºC+ instantaneously starting from room temperature, from a liquid fuel containing dilute hydrogen peroxide and either an alcohol, sugar, glycerol, starch or formic acid. Such Instant Steam could have applications in a broad range of markets, from cleaning and disinfecting, to green energy in the form of motive power or electricity.

Catalyst development is a time consuming process. Tests to assess the performance of each FT or HDS catalyst generally take over a week. Each of the Spider reactors includes 16 individual continuous flow fixed bed reaction chambers. The Spider16 reactors will help to reduce the development time required for new catalysts by making it possible to test up to 16 candidate catalysts simultaneously.

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