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Catalysis for commodity chemicals and fuel production

Gonzalo Prieto has accepted the call to the Institute of Chemical Technology (ITQ) in Valencia and has been working there since August 2017 as Senior Tenured Scientist of the Spanish Research Council. Information about his current research can be found here. This website documents the activities of the group at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung (until 2017).

The decline of petroleum resources and environmental motivations call for the development of a new chemical industry, capable of providing the fuels and commodity chemicals our society demands through the conversion of alternative carbon resources such as natural (or shale) gas, lignocellulosic biomass, or carbon dioxide. This shift in the raw materials paradigm requires the development of novel catalytic processes.
    While petroleum processing has traditionally involved the conversion of heavy hydrocarbons into less bulky compounds, future chemical processes should rather "bottom-up build" the target products from small platform molecules, e.g. CO (in synthesis gas), CO2, methanol, ethylene, etc, which can be obtained from the aforementioned oil-alternative carbon resources. Our research concentrates on the conception and synthesis of catalysts to enable a (selective) chain-propagation from these C1 and C2 platform compounds into commodity chemicals and liquid fuels.

Gonzalo Prieto

Dr. Gonzalo Prieto

Group Leader at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung
Alexander von Humboldt researcher, Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung (Germany)
Visiting researcher, Louisiana State University (USA)
Postdoctoral fellow, Utrecht University (The Netherlands)
Ph.D, Institute of Chemical Technology (ITQ), Valencia (Spain)
Master of Science in Chemical Engineering, University of Oviedo (Spain)
Born in Eiros-Tineo, Asturias (Spain)
Outstanding Contribution in Scientific Reviewing award by the Journal of Catalysis (Elsevier B.V.)
Marie-Curie personal grant, FP7 program of the European Research Commission
Alexander von Humboldt personal grant, by the A. von Humboldt Foundation (Germany)
Selected Young Researcher participant in the Nobel Laureates Meeting, Lindau (Germany)
Innovation Proposal Award by the Center for Atomic Level Catalyst Design (an Energy Research Frontier Center of the USA Department of Energy (DOE))
PhD thesis selected among the 3 finalists for the EFCATS European Thesis Award (2009-2010), by the European Federation of National Catalysis Societies
National Thesis Award to the best PhD thesis in the field of catalysis, by the Spanish Catalysis Society (SECAT)
Extraordinary Award of Doctorate to the best PhD thesis, by the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain
University Staff Education (FPU) personal PhD scholarship, by the Ministry of Education of Spain
National Award to the best MSc thesis in Chemical Engineering in Spain, by the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain
DuPont Award to the best MSc in Chemical Engineering, by DuPont GmbH

Nicolas Duyckaerts, Ferdi Schüth, Gonzalo Prieto. Process for converting synthesis gas to liquid hydrocarbons, device for carrying out the process and catalyst for use therefor. Patent application Nr. DE102017104605.4 (2017)

Gonzalo Prieto, J. Manuel Serra, Agustin Martinez, J. Luis Sanz, Jose Caraballo, Ricardo Arjona: Method for obtaining a multimetallic sulfureous catalyst and use thereof in a method for producing higher alcohols by catalytic conversion of synthesis gas. ES 2355465 B1, concession date 23.02.2012); PCT/ES2010/070553; US patent application No 13/395096, application date 03.08.2012.

Gonzalo Prieto, J. Manuel Serra, Agustin Martinez, J. Luis Sanz, Jose Caraballo, Ricardo Arjona: Method for producing a multimetallic sulfureous solid and use thereof as a catalyst in a method for producing higher alcohols from synthesis gas. ES 2355464 B1, concession date 24.01.2012; PCT/ES2010/070554; US patent application No 13/395108, application date 03.08.2012.

Selective conversion of synthesis gas
Schematic illustration of the catalytic conversion of synthesis gas (CO+H2) into long-chain hydrocarbon products and water on metal nanoparticles confined to a porous carrier

" href="/media/2/I15104114/002641.jpg"> Selective conversion of synthesis gas

Selective conversion of synthesis gas

Synthesis gas, a mixture comprising primarily carbon monoxide and hydrogen, can be obtained from natural gas or lignocellulosic biomass raw materials, and then be catalytically converted into hydrocarbons through the so-called Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Almost one century after its discovery at our institute, this reaction receives currently renewed technological and scientific interests. In particular, incentives exist to expand its scope to exploit unconventional, delocalized carbon resources such as biomass or off-shore natural gas wells. Such diversification requires a significant re-conception of the process, which in turn calls for novel reactor and catalyst designs. Another remaining challenge is the development of solid catalysts able to effectively and selectively produce high value-added, long-chain oxygenated compounds, rather than hydrocarbons. Our task is to glean fundamental understanding on the relationships between the structure of solid catalysts (at different length scales) and their performance, as a means to devise advanced catalysts able to maximize the selectivity to given target products. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the impact of catalyst porosity and related mass transport phenomena on the ultimate performance.

Design of multi-functional and multi-pore solid catalysts
Scanning-electron micrographs of the outer surface (a) and the interior structure (b) of a solid catalyst particle showing connected porosities at both the nanometer (mesopores) and the micrometer (micropores) length scales

" href="/media/2/I15104114/002642.jpg"> Design of multi-functional and multi-pore solid catalysts

Design of multi-functional and multi-pore solid catalysts

Our group develops solid catalysts incorporating multiple catalytic functionalities to effect several reactions, concomitantly, in a sequential manner. The development of multifunctional catalysts contributes to process intensification by avoiding intermediate separation and isolation steps. It additionally opens the door towards unique catalytic performances by circumventing thermodynamic and/or kinetic limitations inherent to single catalytic steps. Besides the nature, intrinsic activity and relative proportion of the co-existing catalytic functions, a challenge remains to additionally tune the rate of mass transport between them. Our current interest is to understand the catalytic implications of the relative spatial location of different catalytic functionalities within a catalyst particle, as well as the nature of the porous network connecting them, particularly in solids with porosity extending over several length scales (as illustrated in the figure). Such knowledge is highly valuable to set new basis to optimize the overall reaction rate and selectivity.