(726a) The e-Refinery: Fossil-Free Production of Base Chemicals

van Ommen, J. R., Delft University of Technology
There is a broad consensus that the chemical industry will have to make a transition to renewable feedstocks. An important route will be to use electrochemical processes, driven by electricity from sustainable sources, to produce syngas, ammonia, and organic base chemicals from water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and/or biomass. In recent years, much attention has been given to developing and understanding novel electrocatalysts for this task, while much less efforts has yet been put in developing the corresponding reactor designs. That is why we started recently at Delft University of Technology the e-Refinery initiative: to make progress in the whole chain, from the molecular scale to large-scale system integration.

The materials used in electrochemical catalytic processes have yet to be designed and optimised. We aim at a rational design approach of the key component materials. This implies the development and use of new predictive computational tools, thermodynamic analyses and analogue reasoning in order to develop new generations of catalysts, membranes, electrolytes and high-throughput experimental verification techniques.

The goal of large-scale production of fuels and chemicals guides the design of the nanostructured materials involved in the e-Refinery technology. We aim at components able to maintain their uniform functionality over long timescales and under relevant process conditions, which can be produced in a scalable manner, taking into account resource availability.

Electrosynthesis involves transport of chemicals and ionic/electrical charge across a range of length scales. We aim at full process control through a detailed determination of the limiting effects of mass, charge and heat transfer (including multi-component and multi-phase flow) and optimisation of the porous structures of electrodes and membranes.

The development of continuously operating electrochemical flow reactors requires geometry assessment, advanced engineering and a scaling-up approach. We aim for an optimal balance between operation towards maximal selectivity and allowing for (in-situ) separation of useful products. To deal with process fluctuations, pulsed reactions and the effects of fouling, we aim to enable validation from the reactor level down to the in-situ electrode level.

Large-scale electrochemistry-based processes for fuels and bulk chemicals production are in an early stage of development. We aim for solutions to deal with fluctuations in power characteristics, to determining the gas-cleaning requirements for a wide variety of CO2 sources for carbon-based e-Refinery products, and to arrive at optimal process system efficiencies. To anticipate the introduction of e-Refinery systems, we aim to make a timely assessment of the relevant system constrains, including the use of current assets, matchmaking of supply and demand, evaluation of the environmental impacts, logistics and feedstock availability.

In this talk, I will give an overview of our recent progress on these various scales.