Getting big: catalytic membrane reactors on their way to industrial scale

  • EU supports MACBETH project with €16.6 million
  • Consortium of 24 partners brings together expertise
  • Previously separated steps are now combined in just one in innovative plants for 4 industrial processes: hydroformylation, H2 production, propane dehydrogenation, and biocatalytic oil cleavage.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions reduction potential by up to 45%, efficiency increase by up to 70%, CAPEX and OPEX decrease by up to 50 and 80 %, respectively.

MACBETH (Membranes And Catalysts Beyond Economic and Technological Hurdles) EU-funded project, coordinated by Evonik, was recently launched and will last for the next 4 and a half years. The ambitious aim is to develop new intensified processes with combined reaction and separation steps in a single, highly efficient catalytic membrane reactor (CMR).

The predecessor EU-funded projects ROMEO (Reactor Optimization by Membrane Enhanced Operation), BIONICO (Biogas membrane reformer for decentralized H2 production) and CARENA (CAtalytic membrane REactors based on New mAterials for C1-C4 optimization) have successfully demonstrated the proof of concept of CMRs bringing TRL 5 pilot plants into operation for highly relevant, large-scale processes: hydroformylation for specialty chemicals, hydrogen production for the transport/electricity generation sector, and propane dehydrogenation for large-volume chemicals.

Key members of these consortia have now joined forces in MACBETH to bring CMRs to TRL 7 for the three processes and, finally, to commercialisation. Cross-fertilization strategies will be used to, on the one hand, optimize the building blocks of the three existing pilot CMRs: catalyst, membrane, support, and reactor concept; on the other hand, to apply the concept to a new case study, the biocatalytic oil cleavage for biotechnologically manufactured products; and, finally, to provide a tool box to easily develop new CMRs for virtually any sector of the process industry that requires a separation after a catalytic synthesis.

The newly founded project consortium consists of 24 industrial and academic partners from 10 different countries. It brings together expertise related to catalysts, separation membranes, supports/carriers, reactors, engineering, and modeling, as well as the perspective of the end user. The Spectroscopy and Industrial Catalysis group (SpeICat) of the Institute of Catalysis and Petroleumchemistry (ICP) that is part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) participates in the development of porous ceramic supporting structures for catalysts and/or membranes. “It is crucial that we share knowledge, exploit synergies, and think beyond the boundaries of chemistry. Our consortium brings together the know-how that is essential for the desired breakthrough in catalytic synthesis. One individual company could never achieve this” says Dr. Marc Oliver Kristen, Project Manager of MACBETH.

Sustainability is a key driver of this proyect: the planned reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in these large-volume industrial processes will be up to 35%, and the increase in resource and energy efficiency up to 70%. Furthermore, the new reactor design not only guarantees considerably smaller and even safer production plants, it also helps to strengthen the leading role of the European industry in the market, because the investment and operating costs can be reduced for this type of systems by up to 50% and 80%, respectively.