Research Fellows Directory
Dr Paul Webb
Sasol Technology UK Ltd
There is an increasing demand to minimize the environmental impact of the chemicals industry and this can only be achieved if we move increasingly toward commercial operations that are efficient in their use of raw materials and energy by using catalysts with high activity and selectivity. A step change in catalytic performance may require a radical new strategy that enables a 'smart design' approach where every element of a catalyst’s structure is deliberately constructed. This will demand a more detailed understanding of both the surface structure of catalysts and the processes that occur at these surfaces under realistic conditions. Our research aims to gain fundamental knowledge of these processes using a combination of state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques, focusing specifically on Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis, a reaction that yields clean liquid fuels and chemicals from coal, natural gas or biomass. At its most simplistic, the FT reaction converts carbon monoxide and hydrogen to hydrocarbons; this clearly entails breaking C-O and H-H bonds and creating new C-H and C-C bonds. To investigate the initial bond-breaking steps we use powerful microscopy techniques that enable us to measure chemical changes induced in reactants at specific catalytic sites. To understand processes involved in the formation of new bonds we measure the vibrational spectrum of the surface on a timescale that is rapid enough to capture the formation of reaction intermediates. These techniques are complimented with neutron scattering and nuclear magnetic resonance measurements, which provide a more holistic view of the catalytic system, both active phase and support.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)