. Scientific Frontline: Sustainable kerosene: accelerate production on an industrial scale

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Sustainable kerosene: accelerate production on an industrial scale

In the international project CARE-O-SENE, researchers are developing tailor-made Fischer-Tropsch catalysts for the production of sustainable kerosene.
Photo credit: Tiziana Carambia

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the international research project CARE-O-SENE (Catalyst Research for Sustainable Kerosene) with 30 million euros. It is intended to improve the production of sustainable kerosene on an industrial scale. For this purpose, the network partners, including the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), are developing tailor-made catalysts to further develop the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (FTS) established in fuel production for the use of renewable energy sources.

With a share of more than 80 percent, fossil fuels are still by far the most important raw material for fuels, heating and the chemical industry (source: International Energy Agency, IEA). Sustainable fuels are based on green hydrogen and carbon dioxide - and should make a significant contribution to decarbonizing sectors such as aviation, in which fossil fuels are particularly difficult to replace. In the CARE-O-SENE project, seven South African and German project partners are therefore researching next-generation Fischer-Tropsch catalysts.

Tailor-made catalysts for Fischer-Tropsch synthesis

The application-oriented project focuses on the development of resource-saving catalysts for Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. In this process, hydrogen and carbon monoxide are converted to hydrocarbons and water under high pressure and high temperatures. Slightly further modified hydrocarbons are the basis of kerosene. By using green hydrogen and carbon dioxide from biogenic sources or by separating from the air (direct air capture), sustainable kerosene is obtained in this way.

"The catalysts must become more efficient, selective and durable," says Professor Jan-Dierk Grunwaldt from the KIT Institute for Catalysis Research and Technology (IKFT) and Chairman of the Research Committee with Synchrotron Radiation. For the development of an optimal design, he and his team examine the structures and behavior of the cobalt catalysts used at the AGV under real process conditions - at over 200 degrees and a pressure of more than 20 bar. "We want to understand this exactly so that we can then develop tailor-made catalysts," says Grunwaldt.

The team uses synchrotron research methods for the investigations: They use high-energy photons to examine the chemical status of the individual metal particles using X-ray absorption spectroscopy and the structures of the entire catalyst using X-ray diffraction. "This enables us to watch AGV catalysts at work for the first-time during operation and to do so down to the molecular level," says Dr. Anna Zimina, head of the CATACT measuring line at KIT Light Source.

The measurements not only provide information about disruptive structural changes that can occur during the chemical reaction and reduce the yield of the target product. The resulting data also flow into theoretical models and sustainability calculations. On this basis, the researchers can make predictions as to how the catalyst changes and which adjustments are necessary to make the industrial process stable, ecologically sustainable and economical on this basis. “Today, theoretical calculations allow us to map the molecular processes on catalysts and thus better understand them. This then helps to make predictions for better catalysts,” says Professor Felix Studt, head of the Theoretical Catalysis department at the IKFT

The KIT receives around five million euros from the BMBF's funding. Part of this goes to the University of Cape Town as a subcontractor.

Goal: produce decentrally, selectively and on a larger scale

Regions such as South Africa, in which solar and wind energy are available reliably and over a long period of time for the production of green hydrogen, are convinced by the scientists involved in CARE-O-SENE that great potential is available to either use green kerosene decentrally in modular systems, but also to produce on a larger scale. "With this project and our strong consortium partners, we want to increase this potential and increase the yield," says Grunwaldt.


The BMBF supports CARE-O-SENE with 30 million euros. In addition, the industrial consortium partners contributed ten million euros. Seven partners from South Africa and Germany are involved in the research project, which is an important component of the federal government's national hydrogen strategy. The coordination lies with the integrated chemical and energy company Sasol and the Helmholtz Center Berlin for materials and energy. As the third major partner, KIT is involved with the Institute for Catalysis Research and Technology and the Institute for Industrial Management and Industrial Production. Other partners are Ineratec GmbH, a spin-off from KIT, the University of Cape Town, with which KIT has had intensive relationships for years, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS).

Source/Credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology


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