New UK facility for analyzing chemical reactions

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  • Published: Jul 13, 2016
  • Author: Jon Evans
  • Source: University of Bath
  • Channels: HPLC / Base Peak / NMR Knowledge Base

With a new chemical analysis facility, scientists at the University of Bath in the UK will soon be able to watch chemical reactions happen in real-time. This will help them develop new and better catalysts for a range of key future applications including making high-performance biodegradable plastics, producing hydrogen fuel from water and synthesizing paracetamol from waste citrus fruit.

The university's Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) will be home to a world-leading £1.3 million facility housing a unique selection of state-of-the-art analytical equipment for studying complex chemical reactions. Funded jointly by the university and the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the facility will provide direct insight into the pathway a reaction follows to produce a certain chemical product. This knowledge is key to optimizing product yields whilst reducing energy consumption and minimizing waste.

In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of how existing processes occur, scientists will also use the facility to develop new catalysts. They will work closely with a consortium of industrial partners to further develop bespoke methods and instrumentation, advise on industrially-relevant challenges and accelerate the impact of their research findings.

"It is notoriously difficult to understand how catalysts work because whilst we can monitor a reaction by watching the starting materials being consumed and products building up, it can be hard to detect low concentrations of transient intermediates that only exist for short periods of time," said Ulrich Hintermair, a research fellow at the University of Bath. "It's also very easy to miss traces of side-products that can tell you a lot about when and how a system derails into undesired reaction pathways or deactivates, unless you specifically look for them.

"This facility will allow scientists to get a comprehensive picture of the reaction network directly under reaction conditions in one go. Integrating all of these machines into one system means that we will be able to get much better quality and quantity of data than we could get using them separately."

The facility will house a range of analytical technologies, including high resolution multi-nuclear flow nuclear magnetic resonance, liquid phase and headspace mass spectrometry, chiral high performance liquid chromatography, UV-visible spectroscopy and electron paramagnetic resonance. A dedicated instrument specialist will be hired to manage and develop the new setup, and the university aims to have the facility up and running by the end of 2016.

The equipment will be initially utilized by academic scientists and engineers at the University of Bath, in addition to researchers at industrial project partners AstraZeneca, Bruker, CatSci, Johnson Matthey and S-PACT. Once fully commissioned, however, the facility will become a national resource available to other UK scientists and engineers for both academic research and commercial use, including partners within the EPSRC UK Catalysis Hub.

"We are delighted to have received this major investment in state-or-the-art catalyst characterization equipment," said Matthew Davidson, director of the CSCT. "Catalytic science is central to the development of new sustainable technologies and this new facility will keep the centre and its industrial partners at the forefront of international catalysis research."

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