Pioneering thinker – then and now: Catalysis

Pioneering thinker – then

Self-taught chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner discovered platinum catalysis and helped lay the foundations for the compilation of the periodic table of elements.

Pioneering thinker – now

Ferdi Schüth likes to take on new challenges. His current research focuses on the chemical foundations for the energy of the future.

Catalysis: Molecular helper and driving force in chemistry

A catalyst is basically a kind of matchmaker. In fact, one of the two Chinese characters that make up the word 'catalyst’ is the same as the one for ‘marriage broker.’ In a test tube, a catalyst grabs the desired reaction partners, dissolves their old bonds and quickly brings together the right partners to make a new chemical compound. It speeds up reactions without being consumed itself – although it can start to show signs of age at some point.

At the same time, a catalyst also saves energy. For all these reasons, catalysts are an important tool in chemistry, where they are now used in more than 90% of all chemical production processes. The production of many everyday items – including medication, fertilizer, dyes and plastics – would not be possible without this key technology.

hte GmbH: Turbo testing for chemical accelerators

With the process jointly developed by Professor Dr. Ferdi Schüth and researchers from the company hte in Heidelberg, Germany, the search for new and more effective catalysts can now be carried out up to 100 times faster than was possible just a few years ago. The company’s name, hte, is an acronym for this process: “high throughput experimentation.” This method, which is based on a parallel and automated approach, enables the Heidelberg researchers to conduct simultaneous chemical testing of numerous catalysts.

Currently, hte operates more than 50 different reactor systems, ranging from catalyst screening equipment to large-scale test plants for process optimization. The company, which has been a wholly owned subsidiary of BASF SE since 2012, now has around 270 employees. 

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