RWTH: Crystallography helps with the energy transition

As part of the priority program “Catalysis under dynamic conditions”, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding a new project on the energy transition at RWTH. It investigates how catalysts can be optimized and reactors operated in order to better withstand the fluctuations in energy caused by the limited availability of sun and wind. For the project, competencies in the field of catalyst production and structure characterization are bundled. For this purpose, researchers from the Institute for Crystallography at RWTH Aachen University work together with project partners from the University of Paderborn and the Technical University of Kaiserslautern. The project will be funded with a total of almost 700,000 euros over a period of three years and will start in spring 2022. The Chair of Crystallography, Professor Mirijam Zobel, is head of the RWTH Aachen University.

The aim is to produce methane from climate-damaging carbon dioxide and green hydrogen. Methane is used as a chemical energy store, for example as fuel or for heating purposes. “Since the sun and wind have natural fluctuations, green hydrogen is not constantly available. We therefore have to develop materials and processes that are stable for a long time under the dynamic conditions and supply bottlenecks of green hydrogen and that enable methane synthesis, ”says Professor Zobel. To understand how the activity of the catalyst materials is influenced by structural changes during the reaction and supply bottlenecks, the scientists use unique methods based on X-ray light. Using model reactors in large-scale research facilities, they investigate the processes and structures on the atomic level, resolved in seconds. “Structure and activity are very closely linked. It is fascinating to see how we can make contributions to the energy transition with modern crystallography, ”said the RWTH professor.