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Department of Chemical Engineering

Close-up of catalysis equipment

Catalysis and porous materials

Our research in catalysis and porous materials focuses on heterogeneous catalysis, membranes and separations, porous media, plasma processing and process analysis.

We combine experimental and modelling approaches to provide predictive methods in order to optimise and develop overall processes for large-scale implementation with our industrial partners. Advanced analytical techniques are routinely applied to these problems to examine surface species, structural changes and electronic effects as a function of the process conditions.

This allows the non-invasive measurement of physical and chemical properties of flow fields. Of particular interest is the utilisation of CO2, waste and biomass via the activation of molecules and processes under more benign conditions.

Catalytic processes

In catalysis, gas and liquid phase heterogeneous catalytic processes are studied, including emission control (deNOx, DOC, CH4), clean H2 production, selective hydrogenations, alkylations over zeolites, fine chemical synthesis, dehydrogenation and biomass processing. These are undertaken using thermal, non-thermal plasma and photocatalytic activation with a specific interest in understanding the structure-activity relationships to be able to design new catalytic materials and processes. The latter involves the development of in-situ laboratory and central facility techniques using structural and spectroscopic probes, such as neutron scattering, XAS, Raman, UV and IR spectroscopy, XRD, XPS and transient kinetic analysis. From this data we have developed the synthesis of a range of catalytic materials including structured foams and reactors, framework materials and supported metal catalysts with specific architectures.

In addition, the electro-catalytic properties of materials for fuel cells and electrolysers are studied. Combining the development and characterisation of novel structures and architectures with the in-house testing in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (Hydrogen, Methanol/higher alcohols, Formic Acid).

Multiphase flow and porous media

Our research here focuses on understanding the physics of multiphase flow and transport phenomena in porous media-of considerable interest for a number of industrial and environmental processes, including enhanced oil recovery, CO2 sequestration, disposal of hazardous wastes, water evaporation and infiltration in soil, drying of powders, and salt intrusion in coastal areas. Our interests are mainly focused on the analytical analysis, simulation, measurement and interpretation of various aspects of flow and transport in porous media such as heat and mass transfer, dynamics of miscible and immiscible multiphase flow and interfacial processes in porous media and wetting phenomena.

We combine the results of our experiments obtained by cutting-edge technologies such as X-ray tomography, neutron radiography, and acoustic emission technique with physically-based models to provide better physical understanding of the processes involved in multiphase flow and transport in porous media.

Our research also studies the diffusion of gases and liquids through the diffusion and catalyst layers in electrochemical systems to nano-engineer the best structures to ensure maximum ‘turnover’ at the catalysts centres in fuel cells and electrolysers.

In addition, we study the use of hierarchical porous systems to treat waste water efficiently both by ion-exchange and adsorption.

Novel membrane development

Our research in this area covers the development of novel membranes for studying the fundamental molecular transport through nanopores to several molecular separation problems relating directly to water purification, environmental clean-up, sustainable energy and chemical production. We have the expertise to cover a wide range of membranes spanning from completely impermeable membranes to membranes for microfiltration and selectively proton conducting membranes. We cover materials such as polymers, graphene and other 2D materials, nanoparticles, ceramics, metallic films, imprinted materials and polymer composites.

Our research includes preparation, characterisation and testing of membranes from laboratory scale to a large area, engineering the porosity and pore structure by chemical functionalisation and developing surface modification strategy for fabricating antifouling and catalytic membranes. Currently, our efforts are mainly focusing on developing novel membranes for applications such as low temperature fuel cells (hydrogen, direct methanol, formic acid and microbial), gas separation, pervaporation, desalination, membrane-assisted catalytic reactions, barrier coating, organic solvent nanofiltration, membranes for health care technology and (bio)pharmaceutical purification. We develop sustainable separation and catalytic processes for both the fine chemical and the petrochemical sectors in collaboration with the industrial sector.

We also explore the issues around crossover in fuel cells and electrolysers as they are one of the most significant barriers to commercialisation. Our research focuses on the use of 2D materials to prevent the passage of all species except protons through the membranes. This enhances performance, increases efficiency and enhances safe operation (as hydrogen and oxygen must be kept separate).