Research team

Applied Electrochemistry & Catalysis (ELCAT)

Expertise

My research focusses on enhancement strategies in (electro)chemical reactor engineering to improve efficiency and productivity, particularly by improving mass transport through fluid control and hydrodynamics optimization. This process intensification is achieved both by computational calculations as experimental characterisation. By numerical computational fluid dynamics (CFD) calculations the relationship between reactor design and hydrodynamic behaviour is unravelled and new insights obtained through dimensionless number correlation analysis. By experimental characterisation, new and innovative reactor designs are optimized towards high selectivity and productivity. Through a range of (additive) manufacturing techniques (e.g. 3D printing, micromilling) these reactor designs are constructed in-house and tailored to the operating behaviour of the application at hand (e.g. 3D printed electrodes for electrochemistry), allowing to identify bottlenecks and grants the possibility to properly adapt the electrode or spacer geometry. Mass transport and fluid handling, when not taken care of, diminish the properties of any excellent catalyst. Only when the intrinsic reaction and mass transfer kinetics are matched, an economically viable process can be established. Moreover, this combined approach of numerical calculations and experimental testing, allows to validate insights gained from CFD results, linking theoretical concepts with experimental data.

Structured 3D electrodes for green hydrogen production 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

In order to achieve net zero emissions in Europe by 2050, hydrogen will play a vital role. Naturally, in order to mitigate climate issues green hydrogen, produced by water electrolysis with renewable energy, must be employed instead of grey hydrogen, produced from natural gas. However, with current prices of 2.5 to 5.5 €/kg, green hydrogen is far more expensive than grey hydrogen which only costs 1.5 €/kg. A major factor herein is the power usage, which determines 80% of the green hydrogen price. In order to lower the power usage, research focus typically lies on improving the electrocatalyst, while reactor engineering remains underdeveloped. With this proposal I would tackle this knowledge gap and investigate how structured 3D electrodes can improve the performance of water electrolysers. With the combined effect of a high surface area and structured geometry, a reduced ohmic resistance, an efficient bubble release, a small pressure drop and a uniform current distribution can be obtained, tackling the power usage of today's water electrolysers. Through 3D printing and the use of coating techniques such as electrodeposition, the influence of the electrode geometry and surface structure on the efficiency losses in water electrolysers will be characterised, yielding insight in parameters such as the ohmic resistance, hydrodynamic properties and bubble release size.

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Control of Nucleation and Crystallization of Oligopeptides in Flow (NuCryPept-control). 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

The NuCryPept-control project aims to create tools for the simplification of parameter-space exploration in the development of oligopeptide nucleation and crystallization. We are developing precise and accurate control technologies for various parameters in the crystallization process (pH, composition, concentration, temperature) that not only work on microscale, but in addition are scalable, so that the same technologies used for screening can also be applied in manufacturing to unburden, through crystallization, the purification process of biomacromolecules, which is currently expensive and inefficient.

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  • Intelligence in PRocesses, Advanced Catalysts and Solvents (iPRACS)

Improving the hydrodynamics of redox flow batteries through 3D printed electrodes. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

Society's strive to more renewable energy, states major challenges in the future with respect to fluctuating electricity production levels. As Europe expects a renewable energy share above 45% in 2050, energy storage strategies are required. Such a strategy is storing excess electricity through the use of redox flow batteries. In contrast to conventional (lithium-ion) batteries, the storage capacity in redox flow batteries is independent of the electrode size. As the electrolyte is pumped through the battery, the storage capacity only depends on the volume of the electrolyte that can be stored in low cost tanks. To increase the power output, redox flow batteries are typically equipped with sponge-like felt electrodes. However, high pumping costs are required to pump the electrolyte through such disordered 3D electrodes. By 3D printing the electrodes, yielding a structured geometry, we can decrease this pumping cost by two orders of magnitude. The aim of this project proposal is to unravel how 3D printed electrodes can influence the performance of redox flow batteries. To achieve this goal, correlations between power output and pressure drop will be studied for different electrode designs and as function of the battery stability.

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Unraveling the influence of 3D printed electrodes on the performance of redox flow batteries 01/07/2020 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Society's strive to more renewable energy, states major challenges in the future with respect to fluctuating electricity production levels. As Europe expects a renewable energy share above 45% in 2050, energy storage strategies are required. Such a strategy is storing excess electricity through the use of redox flow batteries. In contrast to conventional (lithium-ion) batteries, is the storage capacity in redox flow batteries not function of the electrode size. As the electrolyte is pumped through the battery, the storage capacity only depends on the volume of the electrolyte that can be stored in low cost tanks. To increase the power output, redox flow batteries are typically equipped with sponge-like felt electrodes. However, high pumping costs are required to pump the electrolyte through such disordered 3D electrodes. By 3D printing the electrodes, yielding a structured geometry, we can decrease this pumping cost by two orders of magnitude. The aim of this project proposal is to unravel how 3D printed electrodes can influence the performance of redox flow batteries. To achieve this goal, correlations between power output and pressure drop will be studied for different electrode designs and as function of the battery stability.

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Electrosynthesis for the sustainable production of ethylene oxide. 01/06/2019 - 31/05/2023

Abstract

BASF is wereldwijd de grootste multinational in de chemische sector en in België gevestigd in de Antwerpse haven. De vestiging omvat onder andere de grootste ethyleenoxide (EO) productieafdeling in Europa. Het huidige EO-productieproces verloopt via katalytische oxidatie. Hierbij verbrandt echter een substantieel deel van de voeding tot CO2. Gedreven door de ontwikkelingen op klimatologisch vlak en de te verwachten heffingen op broeikasgassen staan milieubelastende processen onder druk en wordt de omschakeling naar groenere processen gestimuleerd. Zo werd onder andere een actieplan van de EU in het leven geroepen om de opwarming van de aarde af te remmen en onder de 2°C grenswaarde te houden. Het plan stelt dat 40% afslanking van de broeikasgasuitstoot, 27% verhoging van de energie-efficiëntie en 27% verhoging van de groene stroom gerealiseerd moeten worden voor 2030. BASF volgt deze filosofie en werkt toe naar een CO2 vrije groei tegen 2030. Het bedrijf wil zich dan ook inzetten voor de ontwikkeling van een groen EO productieproces en is daarom samen met de ART onderzoeksgroep het engagement aangegaan voor de uitwerking van een Baekeland project. Een elektrosynthese methode biedt de mogelijk om een CO2 vrije productie van EO te realiseren. Elektrochemische processen verlopen doorgaans bij veel lagere temperaturen (< 100°C), waardoor verbrandingsreacties, en bijgevolg de CO2 uitstoot, volledig vermeden kan worden. De laatste decennia heeft de elektrochemische technologie grote stappen voorwaarts gemaakt onder impuls van nieuwe technieken en inzichten op vlak van materiaaltechnologie, oppervlakte-engineering, membraan-technologie en gasdiffusie-elektroden (GDE).

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Project website

Mixer electrodes for redox flow batteries. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Renewable energy sources state the challenge of fluctuating energy production levels. As its estimated share is expected to increase with over 20%, new energy storage or conversion strategies are required. One of those strategies is storing excess electricity through the use of redox flow batteries. In contrast to regular batteries, the electrolyte is no longer stationary. As a result, the power density becomes independent of the size of the battery, but will be determined by the volume of the electrolyte which can be stored in low cost tanks. Flowing through the battery the oxidation state of ions (e.g. vanadium) is altered, charging or discharging the electrolyte of the battery. Critical in this process is that the mass transfer of these ions towards the electrode is as high as possible. To date this is achieved at the expense of a high pressure drop, reducing the efficiency of the flow battery due to a high pumping energy cost. Using mixer electrodes, mass transfer is maximized at minimal pressure drop. Such geometries have not been investigated for redox flow batteries. The aim of the project proposal is to maximize the performance of a vanadium redox flow battery as function of the pressure drop through the use of such mixer electrodes. To achieve this goal correlations between power output and pressure drop will be studied for different electrode mixer designs, based on the three foremost static mixers.

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Up-scaling of the zero-gap CO2 electrolyzer. 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2021

Abstract

In light of climate change, we started in 2018 with the IOF SBO STACkED project that aims at identifying the most optimal CO2 electrolyzer configuration. The results direct obtained from this project have in October 2019 led to the start of a patent application process with the De Clercq & Partners patenting agency to protect the CO2 electrolyzer configuration. The current CO2 electrolyzer is, however, still at the lab-scale and therefore situated at TRL 3. Consequently, it is time to take the next step and scale-up this electrolyzer design to an industrial relevant size, achieving TRL 5. The goal of this POC Blue_App project therefore is to up-scale the electrolyzer from 5 watt to 1-2 kilowatt. Moreover, this POC Blue_App project will also allow to strengthen the patent application process and find solutions to the potential bottlenecks that will be highlighted in the search report of the patent application process and explore valorization opportunities through a spin-off or third-party licensing.

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Advanced support materials for electrocatalysis 01/07/2017 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Over the last decade, the use of nanotechnology in electrochemical catalysis has become extreme important. Sole nanoparticles, however, do not yet constitute an electrode. Hence, deposition on a conducting support structure is indispensable. In electrode fabrication planar supports are the preferred format as they give rise to the least complications during deposition. Planar supports, though, do not always lead to the most efficient process. Tubular support structures give rise to a higher surface area and improved mass transport due to its flow distribution properties. Regular deposition of electrocatalyst nanoparticles in confined spaces of non-planar supports, however, is far from straightforward considering the difficulty to reach such places. Hence, it has been identified as one of the next big challenges. The goal of this project is to develop such tubular support structures and uniformly coat them with electrocatalytic nanoparticles.

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Ordered three dimensional electrodes for electrocatalysis. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Over the last decade, the use of nanotechnology in electrochemical catalysis has become extreme popular. Sole nanoparticles, however, do not yet constitute an electrode. Hence, deposition on a conducting support structure is indispensable. In electrode fabrication planar supports are the preferred format as they give rise to the least complications during deposition. Planar supports, though, do not always lead to the most efficient process. Three dimensional (3D) support structures give rise to a higher surface area and when the architecture is ordered, also to improved mass transport due to its flow distribution properties. Regular deposition of electrocatalyst nanoparticles in confined spaces of non-planar supports, however, is far from straightforward considering the difficulty to reach such places. Transferring the desired atomic rearrangement into ordered 3D structures has then also been identified as one of the next challenges. The goal of this project is to develop such ordered 3D support structures and uniformly coat them with electrocatalytic nanoparticles. To achieve this goal, three research questions will be answered: (1) what is the impact of the support shape on the deposition uniformity; (2) what is the impact of the support shape on the efficiency of electrochemical processes; (3) what is the impact of the electrode positioning in the electrochemical reactor.

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