New German Coalition Targets Basic Breakthroughs in Synthetic Fuels
UniCat is the Cluster of Excellence within the framework of the German Initiative for Excellence researching the field of catalysis. More than 250 chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers from four universities and two Max Planck research institutes from Berlin and Potsdam are involved in this interdisciplinary research network. The Cluster is hosted by the Technische Universität Berlin.
UniCat says its overarching vision is to unify concepts in catalysis by bridging the gaps between homogeneous, heterogeneous and biological catalysis, ranging from elementary gas-phase reactions to complex processes in highly organized biological systems, in fundamental as well as in applied catalysis research. _GCC
The industrial : university coalition being formed in Germany aims to develop new basic processes for the conversion of methane, CO2, CO, and biomass into petroleum and high value chemicals. We humans have been granted a generous supply of crude oil, coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels. But it will not hurt us to learn to do in minutes what took nature millions of years.
Natural gas to petroleum is the most promising candidate for near-term economical synthetic fuels, followed by coal to petroleum, and then biomass to petroleum. The advantage of biomass is that it is infinitely renewable, and can be produced in regions far from any viable hydrocarbon deposits -- in such remote locations as islands, etc.
BASF SE and Technische Universität Berlin are putting substantial resources into setting up the UniCat-BASF Joint Lab. BASF plans to invest up to €6.4 million (US$8.6 million) during the first five years. The total volume amounts to about €13 million (US17.4 million). Twelve postdocs and postgrads will do research in the 900 square meter lab. Installation of equipment for catalyst synthesis, characterization and testing starts in January 2012.This type of basic science is apt to sound boring to the uninitiated. But the end result of breakthroughs in these areas will be the economical production of synthetic fuels and high value chemicals from readily available feedstocks.
Natural gas, carbon dioxide and biomass can replace petroleum as raw materials for the chemical industry in the future. Before that happens, a number of challenges remain to be solved. The joint lab helps us to pursue multidisciplinary approaches in catalysis for raw material change, especially when it comes to activating less reactive molecules....Activation of methane currently incorporates three main projects: oxidative coupling of methane (OCM); biological activation of C-H bonds; and biological transformations of hydrocarbons.
—Dr. Friedrich Seitz , head of the BASF Competence Center Chemicals Research and Engineering
Activation of carbon oxides. Chemical and biological transformations of CO and CO2 are key processes in industry and nature. This area includes: understanding the molecular mechanisms of enzymatic conversions of carbon oxides; chemical reduction of carbon dioxide to methane by main-group elements; molecular models for carbon monoxide dehydrogenases (CODHs); mimicking ACS; CO dehydrogenases; formate dehydrogenase; and Acetyl-CoA synthase.
Activation of H/O systems: dihydrogen, dioxygen, water and hydrogen peroxide. This area includes work on: enzyme-mimicking; metal-free Hydrogenation; water oxidation; selective oxygenations; biological hydrogen conversion; biotechnological application of oxygen-tolerant hydrogenases; biocatalytic splitting of water; and biocatalytic activation of dioxygen and peroxides.
Biocatalytic processes in cellular systems is dedicated to the non-invasive analysis of complex and coupled catalytic networks in cellular systems. Work in this area includes: catalytic methods for the synthesis of novel non-natural amino acids; catalytic methods for the post-biosynthetic diversification of peptide antibiotics and proteins; biosynthetic machineries for the generation of peptide antibiotics; and new light-activated guanylate cyclases and phosphodiesterases.
The establishment of the UniCat-BASF Joint Lab will bring the scientific results of our research alliance to fruition more quickly for industrial use.
—Prof. Dr. Matthias Drieß , chair of the UniCat Cluster of Excellence _GCC
The most intriguing aspect of these plans is the likelihood of developing nanotech organic and inorganic analogs of biological enzymes and enzyme systems -- for the replacement of microbes and biological enzymes within inhospitable synthetic processes.