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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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Optimum co-product utilization from hydrothermal liquefaction of microalgae

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The project aims at utilization of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) byproducts like biochar to grow microalgae. HTL is a promising method to convert wet algal biomasses into biofuels. The initial microalgae liquefaction at a temperature of 300 °C for 30 minute,

The project aims at utilization of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) byproducts like biochar to grow microalgae. HTL is a promising method to convert wet algal biomasses into biofuels. The initial microalgae liquefaction at a temperature of 300 °C for 30 minute, converted 31.22 % of the Galdieria sulphuraria and 41.00 % of the Kirchneriella cornutum into biocrude. Upon changing the reactor from a 100 ml to a 250 ml reactor, the yield in biocrude increased to 31.48 % for G. sulphuraria and dropped to 38.05 % for K. cornutum. Further, energy recoveries based on calorific values of HTL products were seen to drop by about 5 % of the 100 ml calculated values in the larger reactor.

Biochar from HTL of G. sulphuraria at 300 °C showed 15.98 and 5.27 % of phosphorous and nitrogen, respectively. HTL products from the biomass were analyzed for major elements through ICP-OES and CHNS/O. N and P are macronutrients that can be utilized in growing microalgae. This could reduce the operational demands in growing algae like, phosphorous mined to meet annual national demand for aviation fuel. Acidic leaching of these elements as phosphates and ammoniacal nitrogen was studied. Improved leaching of 49.49 % phosphorous and 95.71 % nitrogen was observed at 40 °C and pH 2.5 over a period of 7 days into the growth media. These conditions being ideal for growth of G. sulphuraria, leaching can be done in-situ to reduce overhead cost.

Growth potential of G. sulphuraria in leached media was compared to a standard cyanidium media produced from inorganic chemicals. Initial inhibition studies were done in the leached media at 40 °C and 2-3 vol. % CO2 to observe a positive growth rate of 0.273 g L-1 day-1. Further, growth was compared to standard media with similar composition in a 96 well plate 50 μL microplate assay for 5 days. The growth rates in both media were comparable. Additionally, growth was confirmed in a 240 times larger tubular reactor in a Tissue Culture Roller drum apparatus. A better growth was observed in the leached cyanidium media as compared to the standard variant.

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2017