The Bioenergy and Catalysis Laboratory targets the use of biomass feedstocks, including naturally grown and mass-produced biomass, agriculture and forestry residues, and organic-rich wastes. Biomass is the most important renewable resource of Switzerland after hydroelectricity. Thermochemical and catalytic processes are developed for the clean and efficient conversion of biomass from forestry and agricultural residues to gaseous and liquid fuels.
Energy from wet biomass
With the novel approach of hydrothermal gasification, developed in the Catalytic Process Engineering (CPE) group, wet biomass, including purpose-grown algae, can be processed efficiently to synthetic natural gas (SNG), providing a versatile renewable fuel. The scale-up of this technology is well on the way to be realized in the spin-off company Hydromethan AG together with industrial partners, although many scientific questions still remain to be answered. Due to the extremely tight boundary conditions for an economically feasible energy production process based on biomass, the co-generation of energy and chemicals seems to be a highly attractive pathway, which will be further developed in the laboratory in the next years.
Conversion of renewable gas for energetic use
Since 2002, the Thermochemical Processes (TCP) group has been focusing its activities on the conversion of (waste) biomass via gasification either into 2nd generation bio-fuels (synthetic natural gas SNG) or to electricity via high temperature fuel cells, gas turbines and gas engines. Since a few years, the conversion of biogas from anaerobic digestion and the production of renewable methane in Power-to-Gas applications are also investigated.
Catalysts for energy conversion processes and clean exhaust gases
The development and investigation of advanced materials, particularly catalysts, is considered as the key for the further progress in the field. Therefore, the position of the Laboratory was strengthened by a clearer focus on material research and development, which is reflected in the integration of the Applied Catalysis and Spectroscopy (ACS) group (formerly Exhaust Gas Aftertreatment group and Catalysis for Energy Processes group) at the beginning of 2010. The group is mainly working on exhaust gas catalysis and on understanding reaction mechanisms using spectroscopy/diffraction under reaction conditions. It focuses its activities towards catalyst development for energy conversion processes in general.
Material cycles and efficient use of resources
The development of either new chemical processes or new materials and catalysts in our laboratories is only reasonable when all material cycles are closed and if recycling and eco-efficiency are considered in all our R&D activities. These aspects are covered by the Chemical Processes and Materials (CPM) group. In the SunCHem project the group is developing together with academic and industrial partners a cycle process for the production of SNG from algae, recycling all internal material streams.