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One of the main activity areas of the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis is fundamental investigations in catalytic science to discover new principles of chemical reactions and to create innovative catalytic compositions and technologies.

Catalysis, one of most science intensive and promising fundamental areas, expands at the interfaces with chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics. In is involved directly into the solution of many technological and ecological problems, from large-scale organic synthesis to managing vitally important biochemical processes in a living cell.

In chemical terms, catalysis is a phenomenon when a substance, called catalyst, enters a series of intermediate interactions to accelerate a chemical reaction but is not consumed by the overall reaction. As a consequence, a very small quantity of the catalyst is capable of providing conversion of much larger quantities of chemical substances (sometimes, as large as million times of it). Therefore, catalysis is of paramount importance in the economic progress.

The employment of catalytic processes in the chemical industry grows year by year. The industrial catalysis is the basis of ca. 70% of chemical processes in total and of 90% of the processes implemented in the last years. Catalysis and catalytic technologies contribute to ca. 15% of the gross national product in Russia but to 30–35% in the USA and other industrially advanced countries. New generation catalysts and high-efficient innovative technologies based on the catalytic processes are employed in numerous industries, among which are:

  • Refinery and petrochemistry.
  • Utilization of non-traditional feedstock (including natural gas, coal and renewable organic feedstock) for synthesis of chemicals, liquid motor fuels and chemical energy carriers.
  • Synthesis of semiproducts and monomers for organic and fine synthesis; synthesis of polymer materials. Large-scale synthesis of chemicals and fertilizers.
  • Pharmaceutical industry: synthesis of drugs, vitamins, plant-protectinig agents and other kinds of biologically active substances.
  • Environmental protection including industrial and motor waste treatment.
  • Cutting-edge technologies for ecologically sound and self-contained power systems and for utilization of non-traditional and renewable energy sources.

Fundamental investigations underlie the progress in catalytic technologies. The studies on the atomic and molecular level of mechanisms and regularities of catalytic reactions are aimed at establishing the nature of intermediates in catalytic reactions and the structure of the active components in order to formulate governing principles of the scientific-based selection of catalytic systems for various reactions. Understanding of the mechanisms of catalytic reactions is necessary to expand application areas of industrial catalysts and efficient and ecologically sound up-to-date technologies.

Advanced physicochemical techiques for in situ investigations are used at the stages of catalysts preparation and for characterization of the prepared catalysts, supports, sorbents, synthesized compounds and materials. A thorough insight into the structure of active centers makes it possible to resolve successfully problems of synthesis, optimal distribution of the active component, optimization of the chemical composition and porous structure of a catalyst support. The physicochemical methods often are employed to study catalysts and catalytic reactions under the action of external physical stresses (gamma-irradiation, electron and neutron beams, microwave irradiation, plasma, supercritical conditions etc.). Such an action allows sometimes the chemical and thermal treatment of materials to be accelerated in order to vary the structure, catalytic activity, selectivity and stability of catalysts and, on the other hand, methods for active controlling the catalytic reactions to be created.

Development of scientific basis of catalyst preparation is another priority of the fundamental catalytic science. The catalyst applicability for a process is governed by its chemical, physical and operational characteristics. Hence, the catalyst development needs knowledge in chemistry, material science, chemical technology and engineering. New generation catalysts often are polyfunctional, with an intricate structure and complex molecular composition of the active centers. In the recent years, much attention has been paid to the prediction of catalytic properties; as a result, a new methodology called combinatorial catalysis or, in other words, high-efficient screening of catalysts, has emerged. Efficient technologies for parallel synthesis and testing are developed and small-volume reactors designed to handle the vast number of systems simultaneously and under identical conditions.

The quality and range of catalysts affects remarkably the levels of material, energy and capital expenses, as well as the environmental impact and competitiveness of the technology. Development of new classes of catalysts opens radically new application areas of catalytic technologies. For example, new catalytic concepts lead to produce specialty polymer materials that are expected to increase in demand in the Russian market.

The environmental protection is a problem of vital importance. Therefore, the ecological catalysis is among the BIC’s priorities. Three main fields of ecological catalysis are classified. These are: catalytic methods for synthesis of ecologically friendly new products and materials; new industrial non-waste catalytic processes; catalysts and technologies for treatment of industrial and motor toxic wastes. In the latter, traditional problems are DENOX and desulfurization of industrial and motor waste gases, catalytic purification of diesel exhaust gases from soot, development of catalysts for VOC oxidation and fuel combustion, water treatment to remove nitrates. Another urgent ecological problem in extracting industries is the utilization of light hydrocarbons which are often burnt in flares to cause environmental damage. The problem can be overcome through catalytic processing of associated gases into motor fuels and high-octane components of gasoline, as well as into feedstock for chemical and petrochemical industries.

Russia is rich in energy resources. However, the traditional energy sources and fossil fuels are exhaustible resources. Obviously, there is an urgent necessity in developing alternative and renewable energy sources, among which are geothermal and hydroelectric power, wind and flood energy, solar energy, energy of biomass etc. Of particular attention is the hydrogen energetics including the search for new hydrogen sources, hydrogen utilization, storage and handling, as well as the economic aspects of the hydrogen eneretics. The catalytic technologies are challenged to resolve numerous urgent problems in the field.

Among the most pressing scientific problems now is the creation of nanomaterials and catalytic technologies based on the nanomaterials. The insight into the nanoscale functioning of materials and substances allows the very different problems to be overcome, among which are the enhancement of solar energy efficiency, catalyst activity and selectivity, improvement of the existing and creation of new materials for energy storage. With the current state-of-the-art in nanotechnology, an urgent problem is the development of theoretical and experimental bases of synthesis and characterization of substances with predefined properties.

The trend to miniaturization has led to designing microreactors, i.e. submillimeter-sized reactors. They feature an enormously large surface-to-volume ratio and extremely high rates of mass and heat transfer. Owing to these features, the microreactors can accommodate catalytic processes using toxic and explosive compounds under real control over high-exothermic and high-endothermic processes. With the microreactors, potentialities of kinetic investigations and combinatorial catalysis are expanded enormously. In some catalytic reactions, the efficiency of microreactors is as high as several times of that of traditional reactors.

The tremendous upgrowth of the catalytic theory and practice in the XX century gave rise to establishment of specialized centers, laboratories and institutes. The Institute of Catalysis of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences was established in Novosibirsk in 1958 by a Decree of the USSR Government aimed at the development of the catalytic industry, and the Interministerial Scientific and Engineering Complex Katalizator with the Institute of Catalysis as the leading institution was founded in 1985.Todey the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science is one of the most powerful centers in Russia engaged in the areas of both fundamental and of applied catalysis. For many years, the main R&D activity areas in BIC have been:

  • Chemical catalysis as a phenomenon; prediction of catalytic action.
  • Kinetic and mechanistic studies of catalytic reactions.
  • Development of scientific basis of catalyst preparation.
  • Development of catalysts and catalytic processes for new application areas.

The transfer of a product from its originating idea and fundamental research to industrial implementation is a complex multistage process that takes several years sometimes. Nevertheless, in the recent year, marketable high-effective catalysts and technologies, which meet the imperative demands of our time, have been created and industrially implemented. We can claim that the creation of the Russian high-tech market of catalysts and catalytic processes is in progress now. The examples are BIC’s proprietary catalysts for oil processing: microspherical catalysts for cracking and dehydrogenation; bimetallic catalysts for reforming, upgrading and desulfurization of oil distillates; monolith oxide catalysts for production of nitric acid; low-temperature catalysts for ammonia synthesis; technologies for production of new synthetic carbon materials and composites based thereon, for production of plastics and polymers, for production of pharmaceuticals, for processing of plant feedstock, etc. The extensive scope of BIC’s R&D activities spans practically all problems related, directly or indirectly, to the catalytic science. At present BIC is the largest academic institution in Russia specialized in catalysis; our advances are well known both in Russia and worldwide.

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