University of Kentucky CAER Home

Catalysis Program for 1994-1995

Contact: Burt Davis
Associate Director, Catalysis Program
Phone: 859-257-0251
Fax: 859-257-0302

The Catalysis Program has a long-established and recognized history of achievement in catalysis research, and is one of the most capable and versatile groups in the field. The broad objectives of the program are to develop innovative research in areas of catalysis, pertaining to the conversion and upgrading of fossil and renewable energy resources. Investigations emphasize both fundamental research for the development of scientific and engineering understanding, and more applied investigations in pilot plant operations where the performance of catalysts and catalytic processes can be demonstrated on a scale that is of significance to industry.

US DoE-sponsored Fischer-Tropsch synthesis studies are currently the major emphasis of the group, involving interactions with a range of industrial tions, and cooperative work with United Catalyst, Inc (UCI). The objectives are to develop superior catalysts suitable for use in modern advanced slurry phase reactors. Successful investigations have produced an iron-based catalyst suitable for chemicals production (low-alpha catalyst) with high activity and extended catalyst life. Current studies emphasize the development of a robust, active catalyst suitable for the production of transportation fuels (high-alpha catalyst).

Materials researchalso represents an important area of study, with specific interest in zirconia, which is a preferred coating material for utilization in high temperature applications. Current investigations, sponsored by the DoE EPSCoR program, are to assess plasma spray coating with zirconia for application to land-based gas turbines. Other work on porous solids has led to advanced models of pore structures using gas adsorption and mercury penetration techniques.

Reformulated Gasoline (RFG)- A requirement for RFG is a source of high octane paraffins. Acid-catalyzed isomerization is one approach; acid catalyzed alkylation employing low boiling alkane-alkene fractions is another. Current isomerization catalysts operate only at high temperatures with thermodynamic limitations allowing only a limited improvement in octane numbers. Sulfated zirconia offers promise as a catalyst that can operate at low temperatures. Research on preparation, activation and mechanism for catalytic conversions with sulfated zirconia catalysts, sponsored by the DoE EPSCoR program, has established a leading role for the CAER.

Hydrogenation of acetylenes and dienes present in polymerization grade ethylene. The purpose of this work, sponsored by UCI, is to understand the factors which determine selectivity for acetylene hydrogenation in large amounts of ethylene. This work involves a detailed study of the reaction mechanism using isotopic tracers and a comprehensive characterization of both commercial and model catalysts.

In a continuation of DoE work, Upgrading of coal-derived liquids continues to be extensively studied at the CAER. These studies have provided the most detailed information of the conversion of individual nitrogen and sulfur heterocompounds to date. High-surface-area metal sulfides of the transition metals were prepared and evaluated as a catalyst. A ruthenium-zeolite catalyst was prepared and was shown to have at least a ten-fold higher activity than current refinery catalysts. In spite of the higher cost of ruthenium, the higher rate for the ruthenium catalyst makes it more economical to use than the commercially available catalysts.

Direct coal liquefaction catalysts - These catalysts have been intensively investigated for several years. CAER staff members developed a detailed model for carbon and metals deposition in catalysts used at the DoE advanced direct liquefaction plant; this included the surprising observation that the carbon was actually due to adsorbed nitrogen containing compounds. A novel lumped kinetic approach permitted CAER workers to show that the thermal and catalytic pathways were the same.

Model compound studies- utilize isotopic tracers to obtain rate and conversion selectivity data to help unravel the pathways that operate during both direct and indirect coal liquefaction.