NWO Vici for Atsushi Urakawa and Valeria Garbin

News - 05 April 2023 - Communication ChemE

Valeria Garbin and Atsushi Urakawa each have obtained an NWO Vici grant of 1.5 M Euro. This is a highly competitive and prestigious grant, which will enable them to develop an innovative line of research and further expand their own research group for a period of five years. Vici is one of the largest personal scientific grants in the Netherlands and is aimed at advanced researchers. Learn more about their research.

Flow physics of Pickering emulsion reactors for sustainable chemical conversion

This project aims to unravel the flow physics of multicomponent, multiphase systems with complex interfaces, which are of emerging interest in areas ranging from advanced materials, to chemical conversion, to airborne disease transmission. These systems straddle the frontier between the field of fluid mechanics, where multicomponent systems are an emerging topic, and the field of colloid & interface science, where complex interfaces formed by surfactants, proteins or colloids can completely govern the overall flow behaviour. Understanding the role of complex interfaces on multicomponent, multiphase fluid mechanics is a formidable challenge because these systems are extremely complex, their phenomenology is very rich, and quantitative measurements are difficult. To overcome this challenge, we will develop a new interdisciplinary approach pushing the boundaries of fluid mechanics, colloid & interface science, and soft matter. Building on the latest advances in these fields, we will develop and integrate novel experimental approaches including in-situ, real-time visualization of concentration fields and advanced microstructure imaging, combined with multiscale modelling.

As proof of principle, we will apply this new approach to the case of Pickering emulsions for chemical conversion. These water/organic emulsions stabilized by solid particles hold exciting potential as platforms for sustainable chemical processing, promising higher conversion rates and selectivity, and easier catalyst recovery. Despite promising lab-scale findings, industry-scale application of Pickering emulsions is hampered by the current lack of understanding of the flow physics involved. Our new approach will fill this gap in our fundamental description of Pickering emulsion reactors, enabling the development of mechanistic models to predict reactor performance which underpins the future design of a full-scale Pickering emulsion reactor.

Operando description of catalytic activity from the reactor-scale gradients

Heterogeneous catalysis plays vital roles in the production of chemicals and fuels, environmental protection and as enabler of future technologies towards sustainable and circular development. Innovative catalytic technologies are widely developed; however only a minute fraction of such technologies sees the commercial light after a long R&D of a few decades. With pressing environmental and energy issues we face, acceleration of these technology development and transfer steps are crucial. One major obstacle for this step is the complexity of catalytic processes occurring on different length scales varying from atomic to reactor scales. Ideally, catalytic performance (activity and selectivity) is precisely understood qualitatively in terms of reaction mechanism and quantitatively in terms of intrinsic reaction kinetics. With this information, in theory we can rationally propose novel materials and optimal reaction conditions and reactor types, leading to speed-up and higher success probability of commercialisation.

With this background, this project aims at methodological development towards acceleration of rational catalytic material and process design based on the information about physicochemical gradients present in catalytic reactors such as the gradients of fluid concentration, catalyst state, type and concentration of surface species, and temperature on the reactor scale. Two operando infrared (IR) spectroscopic methods will be developed; far-IR spectroscopy to study critical steps and chemical bonds during catalytic transformation, and IR emission spectroscopy to study active surface sites/species at high temperatures. Furthermore, by means of operando UV-Vis-NIR hyperspectral imaging, fluid concentration, redox state of active metal and support materials and their spatiotemporal gradients will be elucidated. Combining with the gradient information gained by complementary analytical techniques (e.g. spatiotemporal gas sampling, temperature measurements, electronic/geometric structure analysis), catalytic reaction mechanisms and kinetics will be investigated for CO oxidation, CO2 conversion and methane activation as important case studies.