How KAUST’s Catalysis Center in Saudi Arabia is leveraging Avantium’s high-throughput catalyst testing technology to produce R&D breakthroughs

Oct 24, 2022

Within the many laboratories of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia lies the High-Throughput Laboratory in the KAUST Catalysis Center (KCC). The KCC has multiple Avantium’s Flowrence® High-Throughput units, designed to test the process performance of fixed-bed catalysts to accelerate catalyst R&D in order to produce new and relevant catalyst knowledge. The KCC has Flowrence® Units with 16 and 4 parallel reactors with a combined testing capacity of 48 reactors.

The Flowrence® technology offers nano-flow high-throughput catalyst reactors to test a variety of catalysts and process parameters producing results that are accurate, reliable and reproducible. The units are designed to be easy to operate with no leak testing required before every run.

In a recent research paper published by the team “Coated sulfated zirconia/SAPO-34 for the direct conversion of CO2 to light olefins”, 16 samples of 50-100mg of catalysts were tested simultaneously with a reactor-to-reactor feed flow variation (error) of less than 2%. Such precision is achieved through microfluidic distribution using glass chips (see figure next).

The Avantium units at the KCC are typically fully booked for more than 350 days per year with only the required maintenance downtime. The Flowrence® XD with 4-parallel reactors is designed for flexibility, accommodating different applications. Two of the available XD units at KCC are able to work in tandem: one for CO2 hydrogenation, converting CO2 into simple hydrocarbons such as methane; the second on using methane as a chemical building block and produce longer chain, more valuable hydrocarbons.

Quartz reactors, enabled by the Flowrence® tube-in-tube technology, present a novel alternative to the traditional stainless steel vessels, for high temperature applications and where chemical activation of steel tubes might be an issue. Such was the case in the research paper “Stable High-Pressure Methane Dry Reforming Under Excess of CO2”, with an operating temperature of 800˚C using quartz reactors. The unique tube-in-tube technology of Avantium’s high-throughput systems balances the internal reactor pressure with a flow of diluent (typically nitrogen) on the outer side, allowing the use of quartz reactors.

Hear it from the end-users

“The Avantium technology has really helped us in optimizing catalyst testing efficiently…The time it would take to generate data of 16 catalysts in a single channel unit would be maybe 3 months of work, this is now compress into 1-2 weeks. I have really loved working with Avantium units, I really impressed by the engineering use and how reliable and reproducible our data is – I wish I could always work with Avantium units”.

Abhay Dokania – Ph.D. Student

“These two (2) Flowrence XD’s by Avantium are widely used in this catalysis center in order to speed up our catalysis research in particular CO2 hydrogenation and methanol to hydrocarbon transformation.”

“What we really like of them is not only the parallel reactor, but the fact they are very easy to operate even with people of different backgrounds and countries (of origin). They are robust enough for us to train staff regardless of their country of origin, if they have a MS, PhD, does not matter.”

Adrián R. Galilea – Staff Engineer, High-throughput

“With these new Flowrence systems we strengthen our high-throughput facilities for heterogeneous catalysis and make sure that our researchers keep having access to state of the art technology. We have an excellent experience with Avantium’s equipment and technical support and look forward to developing new catalysts by making use of these systems.”

Jorge Gascon – Director of the KAUST Catalysis Center and Professor

Flowrence® products specifications

Reactor Section

Easy and quick reactor exchange system. Possibility to use quartz reactors at high pressure.

1 block of 4 reactors

HT = High Temperature max. 800°C nominal, limited to 925°C (<0.5°C reactor to reactor deviation)

4 blocks of 4 reactors

HT  or MT = Medium Temperature max. 525°C (<0.5°C block-to-block deviation)

16 reactors with iRTC

individual Reactor Temperature Control
max. 550°C (<0.5°C reactor-to-reactor)

4 reactors with iRTC

individual Reactor Temperature Control
max. 550°C (<0.5°C reactor-to-reactor)

Temperature Ranges (°C)

100 – 800°C
up 925°C (Option)

50 – 525°C
100 – 800°C
up 925°C (Option)

50 – 550°C

50 – 550°C

Reactor Types

L= Length
OD= Outer Diameter
ID= Inner Diameter
SS= Stainless Steel (< 550⁰C)
Qz= Quartz (< 925⁰C)

L 300 mm 561 mm
OD 3 mm 6 mm
ID SS 2 / 2.6 mm 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 mm
ID Qz 2 mm 2 / 4 mm
300 mm 561 mm 561 mm
3 mm 3 mm 6 mm
2 / 2.6 mm 2 / 2.6 mm 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 mm
2 mm 2 mm 2 / 4 mm
561 mm
3 mm
2 / 2.6 mm
2 mm
561 mm
3 mm
2 / 2.6 mm
2 mm

Maximum Catalyst Bed Length

(isothermal zone tolerance ± 1°C)
Note: isothermal length is dependent on the temperature range

300 / 3 HT 561 / 6 HT
>120 mm @ 450°C >200 mm @ 500°C
>90 mm @ 800°C >150 mm @ 800°C
>140 mm @ 925°C
300 / 3 HT 561 / 3 MT 561 / 6 HT
>120 mm @ 450°C >310 mm @ 450°C >200 mm @ 500°C
>90 mm @ 800°C >150 mm @ 800°C
>140 mm @ 925°C
561 / 3 MT iRTC
250°C ±0.5°C 41cm (4reactors)
350°C±0.5°C 38cm (4reactors)
550°C±0.5°C 28cm (4reactors)
3 reactors at 550°C, 1 reactor 350°C:
550°C=27cm 350°C=41cm ±0.5°C
561 / 3 MT iRTC
250°C ±0.5°C 41cm (4reactors)
350°C±0.5°C 38cm (4reactors)
550°C±0.5°C 28cm (4reactors)
3 reactors at 550°C, 1 reactor 350°C:
550°C=27cm 350°C=41cm ±0.5°C

Catalyst Volume (mL)

(isothermal zone)

0.2 - 0.6 mL 0.4 - 2.0 mL
0.2 - 0.6 mL 0.4 - 1.0 mL 0.4 - 2.0 mL
0.4 - 1.0 mL
0.4 - 1.0 mL

Pressure Ranges (barg)

2 – 80 barg
0.5 – 180 barg (option)

2 – 100 barg
0.5 – 180 barg

2 – 80 barg
0.5 – 180 barg

2 – 20 barg
2 – 50 barg (option)

Reactor Pressure Control

Advanced control RSD ±0.1 barg at reference conditions (gas phase only and 20 barg). For trickle flow Advanced control RSD ±0.5barg.

Standard (±0.5 barg)
Advanced (±0.1 barg) (option)

Standard (±0.5 barg)
Advanced (±0.1 barg) (option)

Advanced (±0.1 barg)

Advanced (±0.1 barg)

Gas Feed Lines

(#Gas Feeds)

Up to 6 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Up to 7 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Up to 7 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Up to 6 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Online Analysis

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation (option)

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation

Liquid Feed

 Split feeding 8 + 8 reators (option)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled, heated 80°C)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled, heated 80°C)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled, heated 80°C)

Liquid Distribution

Microfluidic Distribution
(4-channel glass-chip)

Microfluidics Distribution
(4x4-channel glass-chip)
(16-channel glass-chip)
Active Liquid Distribution (option)
(with automatic isolation valves)

Active Liquid Distribution
(with automatic isolation valves)

Microfluidic Distribution
(4-channel glass-chip)

Liquid Sampling

(G/L Separation)

Parallel liquid sampling (4 x 20ml vials) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Automated liquid sampling (4 rows x 16 vials x 8ml) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Automated liquid sampling (4 rows x 16 vials x 8ml) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Parallel liquid sampling (4 x 20ml vials) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Reactors Effluent Handling

(Off-line Analysis Connection)

Full heated circuit up to 180°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling (option)

Full heated circuit up to 200°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling

Full heated circuit up to 200°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling

Full heated circuit up to 200°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling

Offline Analysis

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode (option)

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode

Waste Handling

Ambient temperature
Heated wax trapping (option)

Ambient temperature / Cooled containers / Heated compartment (wax trapping, heavies)

Ambient temperature / Cooled containers / Heated compartment (wax trapping, heavies)

Ambient temperature / Cooled containers / Heated compartment (wax trapping, heavies)

Safety

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Flowrence® Software

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Microfluidics modular gas distribution

Unrivalled accuracy in gas distribution with patented glass-chips for 4 and 16 reactors, with a guaranteed flow distribution of 0.5% RSD. Quick exchange of glass-chips for different operating conditions. Flexibility to cover a wide range of applications.

TinyPressure glass-chip holder with integrated pressure measurement

Compact modular design for gas and liquid distribution. No high-temperature pressure sensors required. Quick exchange of the microfluidic glass-chips, without the need for time-consuming leak testing.

Tube-in-tube reactor technology with effluent dilution

Unique tube-in-tube design with easy and rapid exchange of the reactor tubes (within minutes!). No need for any connections. Use of inert diluent gas (outside of reactor) to maintain the pressure prevents dead volumes and back flow. Possibility to use quartz reactors at high pressure applications.

Automated liquid sampling system

Programmable, fully automated liquid product sampling robot for 24/7 hands-off operation. Robot equipped with a compact manifold aiming at depressurizing the effluent immediately after each reactor to atmospheric pressure. Eliminates the use of high pressure valves.

Reactor Pressure Control (RPC)

The most accurate and stable pressure regulator for a 16-parallel reactors with just ±0.1bar RSD. The RPC uses microfluidics technology to regulate the pressure of each reactor, maintaining equal distribution of the inlet flow over the 16 reactors.

Auto-calibrating liquid feed distribution, measurement, and control

Distribution of difficult feedstocks e.g., VGO, HVGO, DAO. Liquid distribution 0.2% RSD, making it the most accurate liquid distribution device on the market. Option to selectively isolate each reactor.

Single-Pellet-String-Reactors (SPSR)

No dead-zones, no bed packing & distribution effects. The catalyst packing is straightforward and does not require special procedures. A single string of catalyst particles is loaded in the reactors avoiding maldistribution, eliminating channeling and incomplete wetting.

EasyLoad®

Unique reactor closing system with no connections. Rapid reactor replacement minimizing delays, improving uptime and reliability. Stable evaporation by liquid injection into reactor.

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