Cost-effective cats

A spin-out company from Oxford University plans to develop a novel catalyst technology for the energy industry which is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Oxford Catalysts, the 55th company to spin out from Oxford, will develop catalysts for the petroleum refining and petrochemical industry, selected areas of the fuel cell industry, and for the processing of waste biogas.

The technology behind the new company has been developed over 18 years at Oxford by Dr Tiancun Xiao, of the Wolfson Catalysis Centre and the Chemistry Department, and Professor Malcolm Green, of the Inorganic Chemistry Department.

Isis Innovation, the University’s wholly-owned technology transfer arm, holds a series of patent applications on the intellectual property rights and has licensed them to the company.

The founders have developed catalysts that can be used to transform waste methane into hydrogen for use with fuel cells, or into a liquid fuel that can be used in engines. Further applications include the partial oxidation of natural gas and removal of sulphur from crude oil.

The basis of the technology is an innovative method for catalyst preparation, which produces catalysts that are extremely active, selective and long lasting.

‘There are many sources of waste methane, ranging from agricultural waste and landfill to flare-off from oil production,’ said Dr Xiao.

‘Capturing the methane is important not only due to its high energetic value, but also because it is a very powerful greenhouse gas – 23 times worse than carbon dioxide – and its presence in the atmosphere contributes to global warming.’