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Heterogeneous Catalysis for Organic Reactions

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This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel

This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel phosphide catalysts. This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

Project 1 Abstract: Ethylene Oxychlorination
The current two-step process for the industrial process of vinyl chloride production involves CuCl2 catalyzed ethylene oxychlorination to ethylene dichloride followed by thermal cracking of the latter to vinyl chloride. To date, no industrial application of a one-step process is available. To close this gap, this work evaluates a wide range of self-prepared supported CeO2 and EuOCl catalysts for one-step production of vinyl chloride from ethylene in a fixed-bed reactor at 623 773 K and 1 bar using feed ratios of C2H4:HCl:O2:Ar:He = 3:3 6:1.5 6:3:82 89.5. Among all studied systems, CeO2/ZrO2 and CeO2/Zeolite MS show the highest activity but suffer from severe combustion of ethylene, forming COx, while 20 wt.% EuOCl/γ-Al2O3 leads to the best vinyl chloride selectivity of 87% at 15.6% C2H4 conversion with complete suppression of CO2 formation and only 4% selectivity to CO conversion for over 100 h on stream. Characterization by XRD and EDX mapping reveals that much of the Eu is present in non-active phases such as Al2Eu or EuAl4, indicating that alternative synthesis methods could be employed to better utilize the metal. A linear relationship between conversion and metal loading is found for this catalyst, indicating that always part of the used Eu is available as EuOCl, while the rest forms inactive europium aluminate species. Zeolite-supported EuOCl slightly outperforms EuOCl/γ Al2O3 in terms of total yield, but is prone to significant coking and is unstable. Even though a lot of Eu seems locked in inactive species on EuOCl/γ Al2O3, these results indicate possible savings of nearly 16,000 USD per kg of catalyst compared to a bulk EuOCl catalyst. These very promising findings constitute a crucial step for process intensification of polyvinyl chloride production and exploring the potential of supported EuOCl catalysts in industrially-relevant reactions.

Project 2 Abstract: Alkyne Semihydrogenation
Despite strongly suffering from poor noble metal utilization and a highly toxic selectivity modifier (Pb), the archetypal catalyst applied for the three-phase alkyne semihydrogenation, the Pb-doped Pd/CaCO3 (Lindlar catalyst), is still being utilized at industrial level. Inspired by the very recent strategies involving the modification of Pd with p-block elements (i.e., S), this work extrapolates the concept by preparing crystalline metal phosphides with controlled stoichiometry. To develop an affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional hydrogenation catalysts, nickel, a metal belonging to the same group as Pd and capable of splitting molecular hydrogen has been selected. Herein, a simple two-step synthesis procedure involving nontoxic precursors was used to synthesize bulk nickel phosphides with different stoichiometries (Ni2P, Ni5P4, and Ni12P5) by controlling the P:Ni ratios. To uncover structural and surface features, this catalyst family is characterized with an array of methods including X-ray diffraction (XRD), 31P magic-angle nuclear magnetic resonance (MAS-NMR) spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Bulk-sensitive techniques prove the successful preparation of pure phases while XPS analysis unravels the facile passivation occurring at the NixPy surface that persists even after reductive treatment. To assess the characteristic surface fingerprints of these materials, Ar sputtering was carried out at different penetration depths, reveling the presence of Ni+ and P-species. Continuous-flow three-phase hydrogenations of short-chain acetylenic compounds display that the oxidized layer covering the surface is reduced under reaction conditions, as evidenced by the induction period before reaching the steady state performance. To assess the impact of the phosphidation treatment on catalytic performance, the catalysts were benchmarked against a commercial Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 sample. While Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 presents very low selectivity to the alkene (the selectivity is about 10% at full conversion) attributed to the well-known tendency of naked nickel nanoparticles to form hydrides, the performance of nickel phosphides is highly selective and independent of P:Ni ratio. In line with previous findings on PdxS, kinetic tests indicate the occurrence of a dual-site mechanism where the alkyne and hydrogen do not compete for the same site.

This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

D. Albani; K. Karajovic; B. Tata; Q. Li; S. Mitchell; N. López; J. Pérez-Ramírez. Ensemble Design in Nickel Phosphide Catalysts for Alkyne Semi-Hydrogenation. ChemCatChem 2019. doi.org/10.1002/cctc.201801430

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2019-05

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Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Micro-Algae to Produce Liquid Biofuels

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Fossil fuels are currently the main source of energy in the world’s transportation sector. They are also the primary contributor to carbon emissions in the atmosphere, leading to adverse climate effects. The objective of the following research is to increase

Fossil fuels are currently the main source of energy in the world’s transportation sector. They are also the primary contributor to carbon emissions in the atmosphere, leading to adverse climate effects. The objective of the following research is to increase the yield and efficiency of algal biofuel in order to establish algal-derived fuel as a competitive alternative to predominantly used fossil fuels. Using biofuel commercially will reduce the cost of production and ultimately decrease additional carbon emissions. Experiments were performed using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) to determine which catalyst would enhance the algal biocrude oil and result in the highest quality biofuel product, as well as to find the optimal combination of processing temperature and manure co-liquefaction of biomass ratio. For the catalytic upgrading experiments, Micractenium Immerum algae was used in conjunction with pure H2, Pt/C, MO2C, and HZSM-5 catalysts at 350℃ and 400℃, 430 psi, and a 30-minute residence time to investigate the effects of catalyst choice and temperature on the crude oil yield. While all catalysts increased the carbon content of the crude oil, it was found that using HZSM-5 at 350℃ resulted in the greatest overall yield of about 75%. However, the Pt/C catalyst increased the HHV from 34.26 MJ/kg to 43.26 MJ/kg. Cyanidioschyzon merolae (CM) algae and swine manure were utilized in the co-liquefaction experiments, in ratios (algae to swine) of 80:20, 50:50, and 20:80 at temperatures of 300℃ and 330℃. It was found that a ratio of 80:20 at 330℃ produced the highest biocrude oil yield of 29.3%. Although the 80:20 experiments had the greatest biomass conversion and best supported the deacidification of the oil product, the biocrude oil had a HHV of 33.58 MJ/kg, the lowest between the three different ratios. However, all calorific values were relatively close to each other, suggesting that both catalytic upgrading and co-liquefaction can increase the efficiency and economic viability of algal biofuel.

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2020-05

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Application of Ultrasound in Regeneration of Adsorbents

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Desorption processes are an important part of all processes which involve utilization of solid adsorbents such as adsorption cooling, sorption thermal energy storage, and drying and dehumidification processes and are inherently energy-intensive. Here, how those energy requirements can be

Desorption processes are an important part of all processes which involve utilization of solid adsorbents such as adsorption cooling, sorption thermal energy storage, and drying and dehumidification processes and are inherently energy-intensive. Here, how those energy requirements can be reduced through the application of ultrasound for three widely used adsorbents namely zeolite 13X, activated alumina and silica gel is investigated. To determine and justify the effectiveness of incorporating ultrasound from an energy-savings point of view, an approach of constant overall input power of 20 and 25 W was adopted. To measure the extent of the effectiveness of using ultrasound, the ultrasonic-power-to-total power ratios of 0.2, 0.25, 0.4 and 0.5 were investigated and the results compared with those of no-ultrasound (heat only) at the same total power. Duplicate experiments were performed at three nominal frequencies of 28, 40 and 80 kHz to observe the influence of frequency on regeneration dynamics. Regarding moisture removal, application of ultrasound results in higher desorption rate compared to a non-ultrasound process. A nonlinear inverse proportionality was observed between the effectiveness of ultrasound and the frequency at which it is applied. Based on the variation of desorption dynamics with ultrasonic power and frequency, three mechanisms of reduced adsorbate adsorption potential, increased adsorbate surface energy and enhanced mass diffusion are proposed. Two analytical models that describe the desorption process were developed based on the experimental data from which novel efficiency metrics were proposed, which can be employed to justify incorporating ultrasound in regeneration and drying processes.

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2021