By Kurtis Irwin, VP of Global Catalysis
Catalysts can play an often overlooked yet vital role in the chemical industry, facilitating an extensive array of reactions that underpin our contemporary world. Among their pivotal applications, catalysts are indispensable in reforming processes, where they orchestrate the transformation of hydrocarbons into precious commodities like hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Ensuring the durability robustness and effectiveness of these catalysts in such processes stands as a matter of utmost significance. Consequently, comprehensive testing approaches become imperative to guarantee their dependability.
In recent years, the use of recirculating synthetic gas reactors has emerged as a game-changer in reformer catalyst durability testing. In this blog, we’ll delve into the significance of reformer catalyst testing, the challenges it poses, and how recirculating synthetic gas reactors are transforming this field.
The Vital Role of Reforming Catalysts
Reforming processes play a central role in the production of hydrogen, ammonia, and synthetic fuels. These processes involve the conversion of hydrocarbons, typically in the form of natural gas or naphtha, into hydrogen or synthesis gas (syngas), a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Syngas is a versatile feedstock for various chemical processes, making it a key building block for the chemical and energy industries.
At the heart of reforming processes are catalysts, which facilitate the chemical reactions necessary for the conversion of hydrocarbons. These catalysts are typically composed of metals, such as platinum, palladium, or nickel, supported on a high-surface-area material like alumina. The choice of catalyst and operating conditions can significantly impact the yield and selectivity of the reforming reactions.
Given the critical role of reforming catalysts in industrial processes, it is imperative to ensure their durability and reliability. Catalyst deactivation can occur due to various factors, including high temperatures, fouling by impurities, and chemical reactions with reactants or products. Consequently, extensive testing is required to evaluate catalyst performance over time and under different conditions.
The Challenges in Catalyst Durability Testing
There are several challenges associated with efficient catalyst durability testing. Firstly, it is time-consuming and costly to conduct experiments at industrial scales. Real-world conditions involve high temperatures, elevated pressures, and a continuous feed of hydrocarbons, making long-term testing a logistical and financial challenge. The benefits of testing at scale under real-world conditions ensure for comparative results, allowing for optimisation and efficiencies of the catalysts.
Secondly, catalyst deactivation can be influenced by a multitude of factors, and isolating the exact cause of deactivation can be complex. It may result from physical changes in the catalyst, such as sintering or fouling, or from chemical processes that alter the catalyst’s surface properties.
Lastly, there is a need for reproducibility in catalyst testing. Inconsistent testing conditions can lead to variability in results which in turn can lead to uncertainty in predicting catalyst performance in real-world applications.
To address these challenges and ensure the reliability of reforming catalysts, researchers and engineers at CATAGEN have turned to innovative testing methods, with recirculating synthetic gas reactors being one of the most promising advancements.
The Emergence of Recirculating Synthetic Gas Reactors – The OMEGA
Recirculating synthetic gas reactors represent a significant leap forward in reformer catalyst durability testing. These reactors enable researchers to simulate industrial conditions more closely, providing a controlled yet dynamic environment for catalyst testing.
At CATAGEN, a fully recirculating synthetic gas reactor has been developed to maximise efficiencies and overcome the challenges described. The patented OMEGA technology has been designed for lengthy sustained durability testing, at high temperatures with fully customisable synthetic gas operating conditions. Through the years of continuous development and experience gained, the OMEGA reactor excels in data quality, repeatability and reproducibility, with <5°C standard deviations in catalyst bed temperatures (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Catalyst Bed Temperatures Standard Deviation Across 50 Tests.
Here’s how the Omega (Figure2) works:
Figure 2. Schematic of the OMEGA Reactor.
Continuous Gas Flow: The OMEGA reactor maintains a continuous flow of reactant gases, replicating the real work processes. The ability to run experiments for extended periods is invaluable for assessing catalyst durability. The gas flows can be controlled from 5g/s to 60g/s (200slpm to 3000slpm) per catalyst sample, with the ability to test two catalysts at a time.
Precise Control: The OMEGA allows for precise control of the composition of the gas feed, including the concentration of hydrocarbons and impurities. This control allows for the systematic study of catalyst performance under different conditions. The Full list of synthetic gases include CO, CO2, CH4, H2, O2, C3H8, H2O (Steam), N2 and Natural Gas. For sulphur-sensitive catalysts, CATAGEN have the capability to de-sulphur the gas feed to <100ppb. Additionally, due to the flexibility of the OMEGA reactor, additional sulphur can be introduced to the system to understand its impact on the reformer catalyst.
Realistic Temperatures: The OMEGA can operate at a range temperatures ranging from 200°C to 1000°C, replicating the harsh conditions found in industrial reforming processes. The added capability of going hotter can help to reduce the total ageing hours while still remaining representative.
Catalyst Monitoring: The OMEGA reactor is configured to allow advanced continuous monitoring of multiple bed temperatures at a time (Figure 3), allowing the ability to assess catalyst performance in real-time. Continuous monitoring of gas composition can also be complete at specific sampling points, up-stream or down-stream of the catalyst, further demonstrating the real-time catalyst performance.
Flexibility: The OMEGA reactor has been designed in such a way that it can handle a range of catalyst sizes and configurations, from cored samples to full scale monoliths, powders, packed beds and plates, with the added flexibility of two catalysts at a time.
Figure 3. Temperature profiles for three bed thermocouples, highlighting the endothermic reaction occurring as hydrogen is produced.
The advantages of using The OMEGA Recirculating Synthetic Gas Reactors
The adoption of recirculating synthetic gas reactors in reformer catalyst durability testing brings several advantages:
- Improved Realism
By closely replicating real-world conditions, the OMEGA provides a more representative assessment of catalyst performance. Manufacturers and industry leaders can better understand how catalysts behave over time in the environments they will ultimately operate in, allowing for enhanced optimisation and providing greater confidence of the life-time performance of the reformer catalyst.
- Cost Savings
With the enhanced recirculation of the OMEGA technology there is a significant reduction on the amount of gas required to achieve the real-world conditions, up to 75% recirculation, and with ageing run times of 1000’s of hours, this can be significant savings over the durability testing.
- Reduced Environmental Impact
Along with the reduction in cost from the optimised recirculation, there is a substantial saving in waste emissions produced into the environment.
4. Enhanced Control
Precise control over gas composition and operating parameters allows for systematic studies and to pinpoint the factors that influence catalyst deactivation. This information is invaluable for catalyst optimisation and development.
5. Rapid Data Acquisition
Advanced monitoring and analytical tools enable real-time data collection, facilitating quicker decision-making and a deeper understanding of catalyst behaviour.
Reforming catalysts are the backbone of numerous industrial processes, producing essential products like hydrogen and syngas. Ensuring the durability and reliability of these catalysts is vital for the efficiency and sustainability of these processes. The emergence of recirculating synthetic gas reactors has revolutionised reformer catalyst durability testing, offering a more realistic, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly approach.
As the industries continue to push the boundaries of catalysis and develop new materials and processes, the OMEGA recirculating synthetic gas reactor can play a pivotal role in accelerating innovation and driving progress toward a cleaner, more efficient, and sustainable future. These reactors not only enable us to unlock the full potential of catalysts but also pave the way for greener and more efficient industrial processes.
Bio – Dr Kurtis Irwin
Kurtis is the VP of Global Catalysis. He has over 10 years of experience specialising in after-treatment systems and catalysts. He is a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) focusing on mechanical engineering and he was recently awarded the UKRI Future Leader Fellowship award.