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Director of Boreskov Institute of Catalysis Valerii Bukhtiyarov Speaking about the 13th European Congress on Catalysis: Science and Other Interesting Things

13 October 2017

The largest European Congress on Catalysis, the 13th EuropaCat, took place in Florence, Italy, on August 27-31. Boreskov Institute of Catalysis sent a big group of scientists to participate in the congress. The head of delegation, BIC director, Valerii Bukhtiyarov told about the peculiarities of the Italian event, management reshuffling in the European Federation of Catalysis Societies, and the work of BIC researchers within the framework of the congress.

On management reshuffling in EFCATS

As usual, during EuropaCat the Council of European Federation of Catalysis Societies (EFCATS) gathers for a meeting, and this year it underwent a serious reshuffling, the change of nearly all elected positions.

Professor Johannes Lercher of Technische Universität München, Germany, retired from the responsibility of the EFCATS President, where he served for two terms. Two candidates were suggested for the position of President. One of them is well known in Boreskov Institute of Catalysis, it is the former director of Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry of Polish Academy of Sciences, Krakow, Professor Malgorzata Witko, and the other is the former Treasurer of the EFCATS Council, Professor Bert Weckhuysen, Utrecht University, the Netherlands. The secret voting elected Prof. Weckhuysen to be the EFCATS President. The position of the Treasurer was voted to belong to Professor Fabrizio Cavani (University Bologna, Italy).

Professor Angeliki Lemonidou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece) took the office of the EFCATS Vice-President, replacing Professor Gabriele Centi (University Messina, Italy), the organizer of the congress in Florence. The fourth elected position, the Council Secretary, remained with Justin Hargreaves (University of Glasgow, Great Britain), who served only two years as such.

On organizing and conducting the congress

One of the novel features of the congress was the absence of coffee-breaks, that is, coffee was available all the time. The breaks were planned mostly for catching with the schedule of different sections. About twice a day, apart from lunch time, there were special technical breaks for ten minutes, when the differences in the length of the lectures were leveled, and people could move to another room.

It increased the number of oral presentations and, at the same time, reduce the congress to four days. Another important thing is that the banquet was given on Thursday, in the last day of the congress, meaning that the next morning nobody gave any plenary lecture.

Everybody agrees that it is an interesting format and it should be practiced, but the cancelled coffee-breaks resulted in shortage of time for communication with colleagues. So, it is not clear whether this format would be reproduced in the next congress to be held in Aachen, Germany.

On science

As usual, the 13th European Congress on Catalysis was dedicated to the summarizing the development of catalysis, mostly heterogeneous, in the last years, and scrutinizing the general tendencies of its development for the short term.

Speaking about the science in the congress, the structure was more or less constant and clear. There were five plenary lectures to start every working day of the congress with. Then the key lectures and oral presentations followed. Quite a large share was allocated to the so-called short symposia, with the short presentations, seven minutes each, instead of the usual fifteen minutes.

The sessions with short presentations were composed according to the subjects, in order to reduce the amount of time for talking on the importance of the problem. As usual, it was done by the chairman in the beginning of the session, and then every speaker showed their results in seven minutes. It was a good and interesting format, allowing a larger number of people to present their data live, not in posters, although there, too, were two big poster sessions.

As for the trend in the lectures, I would say that a tendency, first having appeared in Kazan (the 12th EuropaCat was held in Kazan in 2015) and even earlier, is clearly seen – the combination of processing of the fossil and renewable sources into valuable chemicals and motor fuels. There were a lot of presentations dedicated to the comparative analysis of these two subjects.

A hot topic now is energy, since a serious change in the basics of the hydrocarbon energetics with the shift to the renewable sources of energy, with not only biomass being interesting. Today the tendency to use biomass solely for making fuels is moving out, the biomass processing to be combined with the obtaining of valuable chemicals. The oil price is down, and it is cheaper to make fuels from oil (it being plentiful) than from biomass, since the technology of its processing is not quite developed, and the valuable chemicals are successfully obtained from biomass.

The renewable sources of energy are, first of all, wind, sun, some water sources. On the one hand, they do not concern catalysis immediately. On the other hand, there is such a direction in catalysis dealing with storage and preservation of energy, that is, one can store the energy in accumulators, as is often done, or in the chemicals and use the exo- and endothermal reactions related to each other by balance: in one direction the reaction produces heat, and in the opposite direction, absorbs it. So when there is an excess of energy, for example, the sun shines all the time or wind blows strongly, we can carry out the heat-absorbing reactions. The simplest example is the steam conversion of methane. Any steam conversion of methane, methanol, dimethoxymethane is an endothermal reaction, storing energy. If then the thus obtained synthesis gas is transformed, for example, into methane, it is the exothermal reaction producing heat. In the recent years we see the expansion of the catalytic systems to fulfill this approach.

A great direction of the studies concerns new materials, the development of new ways of synthesis, functionalization and, so to speak, coupling of heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysis by using such materials that would allow preparation of the single-atom active centers of the catalyst, but also their heterogenization on the surface of the carrier. It should keep the advantages of homogeneous catalysis from the point of view of high selectivity, since energetically all single-atom centers are identical and carry out one and the same reaction with similar rate. On the other hand, if they are somehow fixed on the heterogeneous surface, it becomes more technological, since there is no need to separate the catalyst from the mixture of the products and reagents, when all of them are in the same phase. One of plenary lectures was dedicated to the development of such catalysts.

In my opinion, the quantum-chemical studies were presented undeservedly scarce, still being very important. The engineering component could also be given more attention, because the science of catalysis, while dealing with very serious fundamental problems, traditionally undertakes the technological tasks.

Florence vs. Kazan

I have heard various opinions comparing Kazan and Florence EuropaCats. I would say the program in Kazan was no less interesting. It was on a par with the Italian congress, and in some aspects even better. The social life in Kazan, for instance, the standing reception was “richer”, because our Kazan colleagues and friends actively sponsored the event, and we enjoyed this support in Kazan.

On BIC delegation

In total, 1600 people were registered at the congress. The first place traditionally was held by the hosting country, Italy, and the second place, Germany. Russia occupied a decent 7th place with 100 participants. If we added 7-8 people, we would be on the third place, because several countries in front of us (Great Britain, Japan, France) were very close in the number of participants (105-106). Out of 100 Russian representatives almost 40 came from Boreskov Institute of Catalysis.

Unfortunately, our researchers did not give any plenary lectures; BIC Academic Adviser Valentin Parmon presented a key lecture, “Methane Activation on Zn2+ - Exchanged ZSM-5 Zeolites”. However, the oral presentations, especially short ones, were represented rather good and were quite interesting. They were done at a high level and provoked lively discussions. Our young scientists who came with their poster presentations also worked well. So Institute of Catalysis looked good not only from the point of view of the number of participants, but also with regard to the quality of presentations. At least, at the final session of the EFCATS Council I have heard a private positive opinion from both former and elected EFCATS Presidents.

On the upcoming congress

The organizing committee of the next 14th EuropaCat in Aachen, Germany, is headed by Professor Walter Leitner, and the congress will by organized by three national federations of catalysis: Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

BIC delegation on the 13th EuropaCat

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