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Germany: Catalysts Lanxess Celebrates 100 years of the ‘Catalyst Laboratory’

| Editor: Ahlam Rais

The special anniversary ceremony took place in Leverkusen, Germany where Dr. Dirk Müller, Head of the Global Technology & Innovation team focused on the significance of catalysis for the chemical industry.

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Standard forms of appearances of heterogeneous catalysts (from left to right): metal oxide catalyst in pelletized form, spherical and oxidic support.
Standard forms of appearances of heterogeneous catalysts (from left to right): metal oxide catalyst in pelletized form, spherical and oxidic support.
(Source: Lanxess )

Cologne/Germany – The ‘Catalyst Laboratory’ was founded 100 years ago in Leverkusen – where the Chempark is located today. At that time, the scope of activities was outlined as ‘work on catalytic reactions involving organic substances’. This laboratory now belongs to Lanxess and operates as a cross-divisional competence center for catalysts and their applications.

On the occasion of the anniversary ceremony held at Lanxess in Leverkusen on December 17, 2018, Dr. Dirk Müller, Head of the Global Technology & Innovation team within the production, technology, safety & environment group function, emphasised the importance of catalysis for the chemical industry:

A catalyzed chemical reaction is characterised by increased reactivity and/or selectivity. The catalyst emerges from the reaction unchanged, i.e. it is not consumed itself. Industrial catalytic reactions are inspired by metabolic processes in all living organisms taking place under the influence of enzymes.

From laboratory to production scale

The catalyst laboratory owes its foundation to the growing industrial importance of heterogeneous catalytic reactions in which the catalyst and reacting substrates are present in different phases, e.g. solid/liquid and solid/gas systems. According to a historical report, interest was initially focused on ‘catalytic oxidations, reductions, hydrogenations, dehydrogenations, exchange and addition reactions’.

For many decades, the laboratory, together with the catalyst production plant made important contributions to the development of highly productive catalytic processes. Many new and improved catalysts were invented, manufactured and further developed here. Numerous operating instructions, recipes and patents bear witness to this.

Even today, the employees of the catalyst laboratory play a major role in ensuring that heterogeneous catalytic processes run as efficiently as possible in many production areas at Lanxess. For that purpose, they develop, optimise and characterise catalysts for new and existing processes. They also advise users on their procurement and on the selection and instruction of suitable manufacturers. If necessary, they also accompany the production process. Quality control of the catalysts, problem-solving operational support and process development are also part of their range of tasks.

The performance of such catalysts depends not only on the chemical composition, but also on physical properties such as the shape of the particles or their active surface. For example, solid catalysts can have different forms of appearance. These include powders, pellets or extrudates made from the pure catalyst material, but also ceramic shapes as supports which are impregnated or coated with the catalytically active substance.

Optimized catalysts for established and new processes

For decades, the catalyst laboratory has been intensively involved, for example, with catalyzed reactions within the aromatic network. However, it not only ensures continuity in ongoing production and in established processes – new challenges also have to be mastered. A current example of this is the development of a specially modified oxidic catalyst that allows the selective alkylation of an aromatic starting compound at the beginning of a longer synthesis sequence.

Even in the laboratory phase, it is important to keep an eye on the specific requirements of industrial processes.

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