Plasma catalysis

This work aims at the conversion of abundant inert gases to upgrade them to valuable chemicals.

Inert molecules per definition tend to accumulate in our surrounding. While some of them are beneficially integrated in our life, e.g. methane, they sometimes are at the origin of major problems. The greenhouse effect and ozone depletion are well-known phenomena. Therefore, the conversion of abundant inert gases by means of atmospheric plasma technology to upgrade them to valuable chemicals is aimed at. Since extreme temperature and pressure conditions are required for their conversion, reactions with inert molecules are usually energy consuming and unselective.

Catalysis often provides an elegant solution. Due to a temporal, specific interaction with a catalyst, reaction energy barriers are reduced, making reactions easier, more selective, and less energy demanding. However, when molecules are too inert, even with catalysis thermal energy requirements are such that selective conversions are not feasible.

Atmospheric plasma, on the other hand, enables an electronic activation of molecules at ambient conditions, and hence offers the possibility of a more efficient energy use, but often faces uncontrolled selectivity. This research topic therefore attempts the development of unique synergistic effects between catalysis and plasma. In order to demonstrate the feasibility of plasma-assisted catalysis, the partial oxidation of methane is chosen as test case. CO2 and N2O, and environmentally friendly oxidants like H2O and O2 are used as a co-reagent.

In the framework of a strategic research project (SBO) funded by the Flemish Government (IWT) the conversion of greenhouse gasses into added value chemicals is envisioned. Project partners include the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Univerversiteit Antwerpen and Flamac. The consortium is advised by a user committee with stakeholders from the chemical industry.