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Elisabeth Wallace

Science & Innovation Officer, Bern

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

9th November 2015 Bern, Switzerland

Catalysis for Energy

SIN Switzerland had the pleasure last month of organising a bilateral meeting on Catalysis for Energy with the UK Catalysis hub. The workshop was concerned with current and future research on catalytic solutions for Sustainable Energy sources and focused on fuel cells, transportation, photo-catalysis and bio fuels. The event brought together the UK and Swiss catalysis community to share knowledge and expertise, and identify complementarities for future collaboration.

The Catalysis Hub in the UK has developed the national programme for Catalysis and is responsible for implementing it. The Hub is headquartered at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, but is actually a consortium of over 35 universities throughout the country, working to establish a world-leading programme of catalytic science, develop new knowledge and promote innovation in and translation of catalytic science and technology. The advantage of working with such a hub is that it is able to link its member universities with overseas counterparts and identify complementary research activities that fit priorities for all.

Priorities for the UK national programme for catalytic science include:

  1. Catalyst Design, led by Professor Richard Catlow
  2. Catalysis for Energy, led by Professor Christopher Hardacre
  3. Catalysis for Chemical Transformations, led by Professor Matthew Davidson
  4. Environmental Catalysis, led by Professor Graham Hutchings
  5. Bio Catalysis and Bio Transformations, led by Professor Nick Turner

Catalysis is at the heart of the chemical industry and plays a significant role in many areas concerned with sustainability, such as environmentally friendly energy sources, waste valorisation, efficient production processes and future self-healing materials. It is an immensely successful and important part of the overall economy, generating in excess of £50 billion per annum in the UK. There is intense competition in both academic and industrial sectors, and a need for industrial activity to shift towards new innovative areas for future solutions particularly for Energy and the Environment.

Catalysis is both a mature and new science, and constantly changing. It has been utilised for decades in an extensive range of processes, with over 80 per cent of products having used catalysis at some stage in their production. Today, with new fields such as bio catalysis, it is a stimulant for a generation of new technologies with a global significance. Although rooted in chemistry and chemical engineering, catalytic science is now strongly multidisciplinary drawing heavily from materials and biosciences.

Current key challenges in catalysis include:

  • water purification;
  • dealing with CO2 as a resource and a pollutant;
  • exploiting new energy sources and technologies including biofuels, fuel cells and;
  • reforming proven technologies.

The field of catalysis is also critically concerned with developing new catalysts to speed up chemical reactions, either from more plentiful, less expensive resources or catalysis for new types of reactions, for example biocatalysts like enzymes (found in plants, micro-organisms or tissues), transition metal (iron, nickel, platinum…) and precious metal free catalysis (for example carbon based or cheaper alloys). Important research aims to develop our fundamental understanding of catalysis including mechanisms of activation, activity and deactivation. The development of large scale facilities including synchrotrons and neutron sources, such as Diamond in the UK, and the development of associated techniques, especially operando spectroscopy or insitu techniques, will help in our understanding of this fascinating and important strand of science.

So why do we think it is important to organise such a bilateral event? Well, both Switzerland and the UK have a matching level of academic expertise, with state of the art facilities based on shared access, such as the soon to be launched SwissFEL — an x-ray Free Electron Laser at the Paul Scherrer Institute near Zurich, which will speed understanding of reactions at the atomic level. Research is done on an international scale and building partnerships with other countries is vital. Working together, British and Swiss researchers can share lessons learnt and technical know-how. Beyond addressing together the fundamental and conceptual challenges of this core area of contemporary science, researchers work with global companies, feeding results into the European innovative pipeline, for the next generation of energy efficient products and processes.

About Elisabeth Wallace

Hi, I am Elisabeth Wallace. I have been a UK Science and Innovation Officer in Switzerland since 2009 and working for the Foreign Commonwealth Office since 2005. Before that, I…

Hi, I am Elisabeth Wallace. I have been a UK Science and Innovation Officer in Switzerland since 2009 and working for the Foreign Commonwealth Office since 2005. Before that, I was working in the Web industry as a Designer. The odd transition between the web and science happened when I took on role in communication at the British Embassy in Paris. There I learnt about the breadth of diplomatic work carried out by the FCO around the world, including science, and it has been a rewarding journey ever since! As a Science Officer for the FCO and BIS, I work closely with researchers, supporting them establish partnerships with counterparts in Switzerland and the EU. One of the reasons for this Blog is also to tell you about science policy and what happens is some key technology areas. You can also follow my embassy on Twitter @UKEmbassyBerne

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