UK Catalysis Hub Call for proposals 2020

The UK Catalysis Hub opened its Call for Projects in March 2020 and received 61 Proposals with 97 years PDRA time requested supported by over £850,000 funding from industry. The projects were of very high-quality science.  All the funded proposals were aligned with the Hub’s ethos, i.e. multi institution and multidisciplinary collaborative projects. This was an excellent outcome of the call and clearly shows the need for catalytic research and the interest of industry in the Hub, even in these uncertain times. The proposals were reviewed as per the procedure developed by the Hub since its outset in 2013 and included members from across the academic and industrial communities chaired by a member of the Hub’s steering group.  

The management group has been as flexible with the funding to support as wide a range of projects as possible and some projects have been offered short periods of funding or support from the Core PDRAs based in Harwell,  in modelling, neutrons and synchrotron science, to enable projects to be tested or to bring the science to a point where further funding can be applied for. Overall, 29 projects have been funded.

The proposals received were of very high quality and each theme has a diverse portfolio of projects (see summaries below). It is worth noting the Hub is supporting a number of ECRs in this round including the core PDRAs on the Science 1 theme who have been involved in writing the proposals. A number of previous Hub postdocs have been successful in this round of funding as well as other ECRs in catalysis.  

Science 1 – Optimising predicting and designing new catalysts


Reengineering the active site of non-heame iron enzymes using an expanded genetic code

(Investigators – Green (Manchester), Mulholland (Bristol), Catlow, Quesne (Cardiff), Heyes (Manchester))

Use spectroscopy, kinetic, computation to understand how ligand substitutions impact the site for C-H functionalisation and OH vs X insertion, with the overall aim of sustainable manufacturing.

Modulation Excitation Neutron Scattering

(Investigators – Hardacre (Manchester), Catlow, Matam (Cardiff), Bowron (ISIS), Diaz-Moreno (DLS))

ME-Neutron scattering on NIMROD, applied to electrochemistry and UV initiated reactions) liquid phase reactions.

Integration, prediction and validation in enantioselective catalysis–proof-of-concept for an integrated workflow

(Investigators – Fey (Bristol), Lynam (York), Quesne (Cardiff), AZ, Catsci)

Aim of this project is to reduce cost and time of antioselective homo catalysts: Modelling enantioselective homo cat, feedback loop with experiments and industry relevant reactions. Propose to share the model once proven.

Elucidation of Reaction and Deactivation Mechanisms of Fresh and Stabilized Zeolites for End Of Life Plastic (Elp)Pyrolysis

(Investigators – Beale (UCL), Dann, Kondrat (Loughborough), Moreau)

Kerr Gate Raman and FLIM operando characterisation of zeolites for plastic pyrolysis and limit deactivation.

Stable and Economic Iridium Catalysts for Renewable Energy Technologies

(Investigators – Regmi, Kine (MMU), Decarolis (Cardiff), Beale, Negahdar, (UCL), Ronning (NTNU), AVS)

New operando electrochemical cell for XAFS, SAXS XES. New class of electrocatalysts. Studying the reductive and oxidative electrochemical biomass conversion. (Support from Science 1 and Science 2)

Direct Hydrogenation of Captured Carbon Dioxide using a Heterogeneous Catalyst

(Investigators – Kondrat, Buckley Christie (Loughborough), Catlow, Quesne, Decarolis (Cardiff), Hall (CCSL), Gianolio Aramini (DLS), Wells (Southampton))

Designing a hetero cat from the principles of the homo Ru one that has been proven to work (CO2 to methanol). The first part focuses on characterising the homogeneous Ru catalyst, the 2nd on preparing single atom heterogeneous one.

Sorbate Dynamics in Methanol to Hydrocarbon Catalysts

(Investigators – Matam, Catlow (Cardiff), O’Malley (Bath), Van Veen (Warwick))

Studying the Sorbate Dynamics in Methanol to Hydrocarbon Catalysts

Protein Repair Catalysis

(Investigators – Davis (Oxford), Hutchings, Catlow (Cardiff), RFI))

Protein repair catalysis for biology and medicine, repairing damaged function.

Cooperative Bio-Hetero Catalysts for Selective Hydrogenation

(Investigators – Vincent (Oxford), Freakley (Bath))

Bio-Hetero catalysis for hydrog (the hydrogenase enzyme will activate the H2, and the NP provides the selectivity. Allow hydrog at mild conditions.

Induction Heating After Treatment Solutions for Hybrid Vehicle Emissions Control

(Investigators – Goguet, Mccullough (QUB), Wells (Southampton), Gibson (Glasgow))

Inductively heated catalysts for emission control to avoid cold start problems.

Changing the Philosophy of Catalyst Design: A Process Systems Orientated Approach

(Investigators – Gavriilidis, Sorensen (UCL), Blacker (Leeds), Catlow, Hutchings (Cardiff), JM)

Reduce the cost and time of catalyst design by prediction.

Science 2 – Catalysis at the Water and Energy Nexus


Removal of Low Concentration Pollutants from Potable Water

(Investigators – Hardacre (Manchester), Davies, Hutchings, Catlow, Quesne, Delarmelina (Cardiff))

Removal of pollutants affecting taste and odour of water utilising photocatalysis and non-thermal plasmas.

Stable and economic Iridium catalysts for renewable energy technologies

(Investigators – Regmi, Kine (MMU), Decarolis (Cardiff), Beale, Negahdar (UCL), Ronning (NTNU), Garbayo (AVS))

Development of an electrochemical flow cell for operando investigations of OER reactions on Ir catalysts (Support from Science 1 and Science 2).

Solar-driven, Inexpensive, Photoelectrochemical Reactor for Treating High Ionic Strength Waste water

(Investigators – Mills, (QUB), Hardacre (Manchester), Brett (UCL))

Treating contaminated saline waters to provide chemical feedstocks (H2 and NaOCl) and removing organics.

Photocatalysis in the water flow: mediator – free NAD(P)H regeneration for biotransformations

(Investigators – Wang (Lancaster), Howe, Kechagiopoulos (Aberdeen), Shi Ma (Tianjin), Lvu (Zhongtian Scie and Tech))

NADH regeneration – towards a clean method of cofactor regeneration and feasibility of tandem reactions with enzymatic chiral synthesis.

Treatment of microplastics in wastewater

(Investigators – Hardacre (Manchester), Mattia, Exposito (Bath))

Catalytic treatment of water treatment sludge to remove residual microplastics preventing land contamination.

Valorisation of Microplastics in Wastewater

(Investigators – Green (Manchester), Hardacre (Manchester), Catlow (Cardiff), Robertson (QUB))

Valorise and remove the microplastics from water in order to reuse the hydrocarbon for chemicals or energy using photocatalytic or aqueous phase reforming

Converting biomass derived VFAs into biofuels

(Investigators – Manyar, Gouget (QUB), Carlow (Cardiff), Hardacre (Manchester), Shell))

Developing a new, easily scalable and economically viable ketonisation- a alkylation – hydrogenation route for converting volatile fatty acids (VFAs) from process water produced from Hydrothermal Liquefication (HTL) of biomass into branched hydrocarbons (C 8 -C14) for blending with diesel.

Direct Catalytic Reduction of Carbon Dioxide with Water

(Investigators – McGregor (Sheffield), Nyugen (Leeds), 350 Solar Tech)

Catalytic reduction of CO2 with water, rather than H2, in order to synthesise key fuel and chemical feedstock.

Artificial heterobimetallic enzymes: Synthesis and application of [NiFe]-hydrogenase analogues

(Investigators – Pordea, Morra (Nottingham), Marr (QUB), Vincent (Oxford))

Develop efficient and stable hydrogen evolution catalysts. The aim is to use the metal binding site in rubredoxins as a starting scaffold to construct synthetic heterobimetallic cores embedded In a protein environment offered.

Science 3 – Catalysis for Circular Economy and Sustainable Manufacturing


Reframing plastic waste as a resource

(Investigators – Garforth, Fan, Hardacre, Partlett, Tedstone, Wilkinson, Yerokhin, Zhang (Manchester), Davidson (Bath), Randvir (MMU))

Depolymerisation of mixed plastics waste (MPW) combined with hydrocracking can create valuable and targeted products (such as naphtha) than thermal pyrolysis.

Sustaining pharma-relevant metal -catalysed cross-couplings: interrogation of metal catalysts using automated optimisation routines, rich data analytics and mechanistic studies

(Investigators – Fairlamb, Wilson (York), Bourne Willans (Leeds), Beaumont (Durham), GSK)

To deliver a versatile platform (methodology and technology) to enable a large number of pharma- relevant reaction variables to be screened in a short period of time, allowing robustness and sensitivities in metal catalysed reactions to be better understood across a broad space).

Catalytic upgrading of carbon dioxide, hydrogen and small alcohols to liquids fuels

(Investigators – Wass Sankar (Cardiff), Fan, Hardacre (Manchester), BP, JM)

Develop catalytic systems for the direct conversion of carbon dioxide, (renewable) hydrogen and small (bio) alcohols into fuel molecule using a tandem hydrogenation-Guerbet approach.

From Rings to Polymers and Back Again: Catalytic Recycling of Waste Oxygenated Plastic

(Investigators – Buchard Parsons, Lyall, Gobius Du Sart (Bath), Williams (Oxford), Mulholland (Bristol), Terill (DLS), Drochaid, Oxford Engineering)

Provide catalytic solutions to the chemical recycling of high-growth oxygenated plastics.

CO2 to MeOH: a supported molten-salt catalytic membrane reactor (CO2MeOH)

(Investigators – Papaioannou, Mutch (Newcastle), Gibson (Glasgow), McCue (Aberdeen))

Membrane reactor for CO2 transport and H2O removal during the CO2 to methanol reaction, (to push the equilibrium) (support from Science 1 and Science 3).

Understanding Wet Impregnation Synthesis for Sustainable Hydrogenation Catalysts

(Investigators – Haigh (Manchester), Sankar (Cardiff), BP, JM)

Develop optimised hydrogenation catalysts via modified wet impregnation processing methods for the conversion of CO2 to higher value products. Central to the project will be the first real time, atomic scale observations of wet impregnation synthesis.

Catalytic cascade reactions for biomass valorisation

(Investigators – Parlett (Manchester/Diamond), Hondrow (Leeds), Evans (Aston), LuxferMEL)

Direct reaction pathways during catalytic cascade biomass valorisation through spatial compartmentalisation of different catalytic species within a single porous architecture.

-1-Rh–complexes of the super-π-acceptor fluoro-phosphite ligands: ligand design and operando studies of an industrially important class of hydroformylation catalyst

(Investigators – Pringle, Fey (Bristol), Hintermair (Bath), LiKat, Bartlett (DLS), Evonik)

Provide new mechanistic insights into the workings of fluorophosphite-modified hydroformylation catalysts.

Sustainable Syngas from Engineered Bacteria for Next-Generation Catalytic Hydroformylation

(Investigators – Jarvis, Wallace (Edinburgh), LiKat)

Modern synthetic biology to assemble a novel pathway for the biosynthesis of syngas in the bacterium E. coli.

In addition one proposal was deemed to cross all the themes of the Hub and will be supported by all themes. 

Cloud-enabled virtual collaboration for catalyst modelling for the circular economy

(Investigators – Mulholland, Bennie (Bristol), Green (Manchester), Jarvis (Edinburgh), Bouchard, Davidson (Bath), McGeehan (Portsmouth))

Enable groups working across the Hub to model and design catalysts using virtual reality (VR) for the first time.

The call for proposals was a huge success and we look forward to this exciting and diverse portfolio of Projects getting started this year. The Hub is very happy to be able to support and enable cutting edge, collaborative research even is these difficult times. 

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