VITO is a leading European independent research centre in the areas of cleantech and sustainable development, elaborating solutions for the grand societal challenges of tomorrow: climate change, food security, a sustainable energy supply, the ageing population and scarcity of resources. The business unit of Separation and Conversion Technology is composed of ca. 120 staff and has organized its strategic research program around the theme ‘Sustainable Chemistry’ with special focus on (1) process intensification through the integration of separation processes with chemical, microbial, enzymatic and electrochemical conversion processes, and (2) the use of alternative feedstocks, such as CO2 and biomass.
Separation and Conversion Technology (SCT)
The electrochemical research at SCT has a strategic focus on sustainable electrochemistry aiming for novel electrocatalysts and their integration into advanced reactors. The research team excels due to the combined expertise of material development, electrochemistry and engineering. The team members have a lot of experience in resource recovery, electrosynthesis and fuel cell/electrolyzer development and testing. Traditionally, the research focus at the group has been development of low cost and efficient electrodes and membranes. The VITO proprietary gas diffusion electrodes (GDEs) primarily developed for microbial fuel cells are considered as the current state of the art and are currently being revised to deploy similar architectures for CO2 conversion processes. Since few years, the group started activities in the electrosynthesis field with projects on conversion of CO2 to ethanol, methanol, formic acid, electroconversion of biomass and conversion of acids to alcohols and production of ionic liquids. The lab has participated to several EU projects in the past framework programs, coordinating also some of them.
The group is composed of six senior research staff members and about ten PhD and post-docs with specialization in chemistry, material development, separation processes, electrochemistry and biotechnology in order to have an interdisciplinary approach. The group will host ESR13.
The ELEC team of the unit SCT at Vito is well-equipped in order to focus on its two main goals: (1) the development and testing of electrocatalytic materials and (2) demonstrating these electroconversion technologies on a larger pre-industrial scale. Also, material development is done; electrodes, membranes and combinations thereof are engineered, characterized, produced and tested. Experienced electrochemists are complemented by a core engineering team to develop the team’s own electrochemical reactor stacks and pilot systems that include the up- and downstream supporting utilities and process control systems. SCT has facilities for electrode design, development and upscaling and for all basic and advanced electrochemical measurements. In addition, fully equipped analytical labs are in place to carry out conventional chemical analyses and processes related to in-situ measurements (AAS, GC, HPLC, GC-MS, GC-TCD…). If needed, highly sophisticated and novel analyses methods are developed and performed at the dedicated analysis lab that serves as an international reference.
The research lab on electrochemistry and electrode development is well-equipped to carry out simple to very complex experiments. It includes multichannel potentiostats (50 channels) and frequency response analysers, oscilloscopes, and lab distribution of diverse gases. For shaping and integrating materials, semi-automatic manufacturing facilities for electrode development and electrochemical membranes are in place. Newly installed capacity on nanoparticle synthesis and characterization is available as is high throughput screening with inline analysis. The team is currently developing and building a 2 kW reactor to demonstrate CO2 electroconversion. Finally, VITO provides possibility of potential coupling to real (geothermal) renewables and direct air capture (DAC) technology.