New research hub promises cheaper energy, cleaner environment and economic development

19 April 2013

Scientists will today launch a new centre for research into catalytic research – the study of materials which speed up chemical reactions.  New developments in this area have the potential to help production of clean fuels, develop new drugs and clean up pollution – and to maintain the UK’s strong position in this commercially important field.

Catalysts are best known for their use in vehicle exhaust systems, where they help break down the toxic gases produced by car engines before they are released into the atmosphere. However they are used far more widely, and have many commercial applications. They are particularly important in scaling up small-scale chemical processes from the lab to sizes and speeds which are economically viable for large-scale use in industry.

A plasma (the purple light) interacting with a catalyst bed in order to enhance the activity of car exhaust catalysts
A plasma (the purple light) interacting with a catalyst bed in order to enhance the activity of car exhaust catalysts. Photo: Chris Hardacre (QUB)

The newly-opened UK Catalysis Hub is a collaborative project between universities, industry and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It is located alongside other major scientific facilities in the Research Complex at Harwell, Oxfordshire, and was made possible by a £12.9 million investment by the EPSRC.

The Hub will provide strategic direction to catalytic research in the UK, with shared facilities, networking and training to support research in the partner institutions. The Hub will co-ordinate multi-disciplinary scientists and chemical engineers from over 30 different universities.

Professor Richard Catlow (University College London), co-leader of the project, said:

“The work within the design theme of the project will involve the use of advanced computational, synchrotron and neutron scattering facilities in order to obtain an understanding of the molecular basis of key catalytic processes – knowledge which will help in optimising and designing new catalysts”

Prof Catlow will lead the Hub’s work on catalyst design. This will focus on finding out more about how catalysts work on a molecular level, leading to improvements in the design and efficiency of catalysts.

Professor Graham Hutchings (Cardiff University), co-leader of the project, added: “This is a wonderful opportunity for UK catalysis to work together and tackle really significant scientific challenges. The launch meeting gives us the opportunity to show the potential we have for society as a whole.”

Prof Hutchings will coordinate the Hub’s work on environmental catalysis, working towards protecting the environment from atmospheric pollution.

Other projects that fall within the Hub will focus on the use of catalysis in energy (led by Prof Christopher Hardacre, Queen’s University Belfast) and chemical transformations in industry (led by Prof Matthew Davidson, University of Bath).

Ed Vaizey, Member of Parliament for Wantage and Didcot, who will formally open the Hub this afternoon, said:

“I’m thrilled the UK Catalysis hub is opening in Harwell.  It is a collaboration between dozens of leading universities, which will have a huge impact on catalytic research.  It also reaffirms Harwell as one of the most preeminent scientific locations in the UK and the world”

The UK Catalysis Hub is a joint project bringing together universities, funding bodies and industry.

The partner institutions are: Cardiff University, University College London, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Bath, AstraZeneca, Diamond Light Source, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson Matthey, Imperial College London, ISIS, London South Bank University, STFC Laboratories, Syngenta, Newcastle University, Pfizer, Research Complex at Harwell, Queen Mary University of London, search Complex at Harwell, Queen Mary University of London, University of Aberdeen, University of Bath,  University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of East Anglia, University of Glasgow, University of Hull, University of Kent, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, University of Liverpool, University of Manchester, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University of Teesside, University of Warwick, University of York, University of St Andrews.

Other collaborating universities and industries are expected to join the Hub team over the course of the project.

Science contacts:

Prof Richard Catlow

University College London

020 7679 0650

Prof Graham Hutchings

Cardiff University

02920 874 059

Media contacts:

Oli Usher

University College London

020 7679 7964

Emma Darling

Cardiff University

029 2087 4499