The defining paradigm of chemical engineering is the unit operations approach, in which a process is broken down into individual unit operations (hence the name!), such as mixing, preheating, reacting, and separating, and an individual apparatus is devoted to each of this operations.
In recent years, a novel approach has emerged in which several unit operations are integrated into one apparatus--which thus becomes multifunctional--with the aim of achieving a process with reduced energy, environmental, and/or physical foot-print - typically referred to as 'process intensification'. Well-established examples are heat-exchange reactors (combination of heat exchanger with a chemical reactor), membrane reactors (mixing/separation and reaction) and reactive distillation (separation and reaction).
We have been exploring heat-integrated reactors (so-called 'reverse-flow reactors') in much detail and are currently focusing much of our attention on 'chemical looping' as a rapidly emerging technology for clean combustion, and its application to reactions beyond combustion (including hydrogen production, syngas production, and CO2 conversion).
In parallel, we are exploring the transition of specialty chemicals production from the traditional batch processing to continuous processing in a close collaboration with an industry partner.
Engineered nanomaterials are revolutionizing technology across a broad range of industries. The engineering of materials properties on the molecular scale has enbled tailoring of physical and chemical - and hence: functional - properties of many materials with unprecedented precision, opening a vast array of exciting novel opportunities.
Beyond the investigation of structure-property relationships (such as impact of size, shape, and composition of materials on their reactive properties) in catalysis and related reactive applications, our research focuses on the development of cost-effective and scalable synthesis pathways which result in robust nanomaterials that can survive the conditions of typical industrial applications. Current work is focused on embedded metal nanocatalysts for oxidation reactions, metal@zeolite core-shell materials for natural gas upgrading, and synthesis of nanostructured CO2 sorbents.
In parallel, we are developing new approaches towards characterization of metal-support interactions as a key descriptor for catalyst stability.