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.
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 Catalyis for Energy (CEG) group (formerly Exhaust Gas Aftertreatment group) at the beginning of 2010. The group is mainly working on exhaust gas catalysis, but is broadening 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.
Material characterization by X-ray absorption spectroscopy at the Swiss light source
Diagnostic tools for the analysis of process fluids and materials are of central relevance for a scientific approach to process development. To this end, the laboratory has made increasing use of PSI’s large facilities and operates an X-ray absorption spectroscopy beamline at the Swiss light source. The SuperXAS beamline has been extensively used for in situ studies of processes relevant to the technology developments of the laboratory. The beamline has developed in the last years into a center for operando investigation of catalysts and catalytic processes.