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UniCat and BASF establish joint lab for development of new catalytic processes for raw material change; natural gas, CO2 and biomass as alternatives to petroleum

UniCat’s research program is structured in two overarching areas—Chemical (Area D) and Biological Catalysis (Area E)—with four main bands: the activation of methane; carbon oxides; and H/O systems and biocatalysis in cellular systems. Source: UniCat. Click to enlarge.

The Cluster of Excellence “Unifying Concepts in Catalysis” (UniCat) and the chemical company BASF SE signed a cooperation agreement establishing a new joint lab dedicated to the development of new catalytic processes for raw material change. The move promotes the search for alternatives to petroleum, in particular the use of natural gas. The long-term goal is to ensure the continued future availability of raw materials for the production of chemicals.

BASF SE and Technische Universität Berlin are putting substantial resources into setting up the UniCat-BASF Joint Lab. BASF plans to invest up to €6.4 million (US$8.6 million) during the first five years. The total volume amounts to about €13 million (US17.4 million). Twelve postdocs and postgrads will do research in the 900 square meter lab. Installation of equipment for catalyst synthesis, characterization and testing starts in January 2012.

Natural gas, carbon dioxide and biomass can replace petroleum as raw materials for the chemical industry in the future. Before that happens, a number of challenges remain to be solved. The joint lab helps us to pursue multidisciplinary approaches in catalysis for raw material change, especially when it comes to activating less reactive molecules.

—Dr. Friedrich Seitz , head of the BASF Competence Center Chemicals Research and Engineering

UniCat is the Cluster of Excellence within the framework of the German Initiative for Excellence researching the field of catalysis. More than 250 chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers from four universities and two Max Planck research institutes from Berlin and Potsdam are involved in this interdisciplinary research network. The Cluster is hosted by the Technische Universität Berlin.

UniCat says its overarching vision is to unify concepts in catalysis by bridging the gaps between homogeneous, heterogeneous and biological catalysis, ranging from elementary gas-phase reactions to complex processes in highly organized biological systems, in fundamental as well as in applied catalysis research.

Its research focuses on analyzing catalytic mechanisms, designing novel catalytic materials and strategies, and developing new catalytic processes on laboratory and mini-plant scales.

UniCat originally organized its research program into into three competence-oriented research areas (A, B and C); based on its achievements, UniCat has shifted to a target-oriented structure that allows for elucidating complex catalytic processes in a more efficient and comprehensive manner.

The three areas are now merged into two new areas devoted to Chemical (Area D) and Biological Catalysis (Area E). The projects in both areas are intertwined to form four Research Bands: Activation of Methane D1/E1; Activation of Carbon Oxides D2/E2, Activation of H/O Systems D3/E3, and Biocatalysis in Cellular Systems D4/E4.

  • Activation of methane currently incorporates three main projects: oxidative coupling of methane (OCM); biological activation of C-H bonds; and biological transformations of hydrocarbons.

  • Activation of carbon oxides. Chemical and biological transformations of CO and CO2 are key processes in industry and nature. This area includes: understanding the molecular mechanisms of enzymatic conversions of carbon oxides; chemical reduction of carbon dioxide to methane by main-group elements; molecular models for carbon monoxide dehydrogenases (CODHs); mimicking ACS; CO dehydrogenases; formate dehydrogenase; and Acetyl-CoA synthase.

  • Activation of H/O systems: dihydrogen, dioxygen, water and hydrogen peroxide. This area includes work on: enzyme-mimicking; metal-free Hydrogenation; water oxidation; selective oxygenations; biological hydrogen conversion; biotechnological application of oxygen-tolerant hydrogenases; biocatalytic splitting of water; and biocatalytic activation of dioxygen and peroxides.

  • Biocatalytic processes in cellular systems is dedicated to the non-invasive analysis of complex and coupled catalytic networks in cellular systems. Work in this area includes: catalytic methods for the synthesis of novel non-natural amino acids; catalytic methods for the post-biosynthetic diversification of peptide antibiotics and proteins; biosynthetic machineries for the generation of peptide antibiotics; and new light-activated guanylate cyclases and phosphodiesterases.

The establishment of the UniCat-BASF Joint Lab will bring the scientific results of our research alliance to fruition more quickly for industrial use.

—Prof. Dr. Matthias Drieß , chair of the UniCat Cluster of Excellence

A number of UniCat teams have been instrumental in the success of the project. The “UniCat-BASF Joint Lab“ is to be assigned a steering committee made up of UniCat chair Prof. Dr. Matthias Drieß, Fritz Haber Institute representative Prof. Dr. Robert Schlögl, and the head of the BASF Competence Center Chemicals Research and Engineering, Dr. Friedrich Seitz.



What specific 'Cluster of Excellence' has been scientifically accomplished in this article?

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