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6th International Conference on Multifunctional, Hybrid and Nanomaterials: presenting our results on the stability of hydrophobic metallosilicates

Ales Styskalik is at the “HYMA Conference” in Sitges (Spain) to present an oral communication: «Ethanol dehydration over hydrophobic aluminum and niobium silicates: Influence of homogeneity of metal mixing on catalytic activity and stability of Si−C bonds». Here is his story, in brief.

Ethylene is widely used in chemical industry, mainly in polymer production. Nowadays it is being produced by petrochemical industry. (Bio)ethanol dehydration to (bio)ethylene is an interesting process that can become a competitive alternative to oil based production of ethylene, however catalysts for this reaction suffer from low activity and hydrothermal stability. Our intention was to improve their performance by increase of hydrophobicity. For this reason organic groups were introduced into the metallosilicate catalysts. To prepare these hybrids, we exploit the power of non-hydrolytic sol-gel chemistry.

From the very beginning we were facing serious issues with hydrothermal stability especially for materials containig aromatic groups connected via a direct Si−Caromatic bond. That was surprising because hybrid silica materials were proved to feature high stability against hydrolysis: while hydrolysis in hydrophobic silica occured at 400 °C, we have observed an extensive damage to metallosilicates already at 200 °C. We have shown that the instability is brought by introduction of partial charges to silica network due to differences in electronegativity between Si and the metal atoms incorporated. The more homogeneously were metals and thus partial charges distributed within the network, the lower was the catalyst stability. This stability issue was solved by incorporation of organic groups using precursors with stable Si−Caliphatic bonds (Figure). These are hydrothermally stable up to 350 °C. Aromatic groups can be maintained when using xylylene bridges.


Simply Complex: Precisely Manufactured Simple Molecules for Today’s Applications

On November 30, Dr. Rob Hart, head of R&D from The Shepherd Chemical Company (Cincinnati, USA) is invited to present a seminar at our Institute.

“It turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks”.

Rob Hart, 2018

You are all invited to attend and discover how the chemistry and manufacture of simple molecules like basic copper nitrate, cobalt neodecanoate, zinc octoate and chromium acetate is in fact complex and interesting. Advanced characterization techniques, precise chemical engineering and strategic partnerships create opportunities for these types of materials to play a prominent role in technologies that impact us every day. 

Rob Hart is the Head of R&D from The Shepherd Chemical Company . He obtained his bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin and his Ph.D.from Indiana University where he worked with Prof. Josef Zwanziger on ceramic glasses. After graduation, he did a post-doc at Argonne National Lab where he worked with Chris Benmore, Ph.D. on characterizing optics, glasses, refractories, molecular liquids, etc. with neutron and x-rays cattering. Rob joined Shepherd Chemical in 2005 and has served numerous roles in the company from chemist and characterization lab manager to production manager and now Head of R&D.

Looking forward to meeting you all there!


Funded post-doc position: “QCM and AFM investigation of heterogeneous catalytic systems”

We are looking for a highly motivated post-doctoral researcher with a background in the investigation of heterogeneous catalytic systems on thin films.

The overall objective of the project is to study the hydrophobic/hydrophilic balance of the catalysts. The strategy outlining the post-doc research is to address these aspects by (i) preparing thin films of different catalytic solids, (ii) characterizing them by diverse micro- and spectroscopies, including AFM, (iii) performing QCM measurements to probe their adsorption/desorption behavior.

Detailed information and instructions for application can be found here.


“La chimie des matériaux hybrides et leurs applications” – Prof. Clément Sanchez (15 mai):

L’association des diplômés de la Faculté des Bioingénieurs, en partenariat avec la Fondation Francqui et l’UCL a le plaisir de vous inviter à la leçon du Prof. Clément Sanchez, le 15 mai prochain à 18h30 au SUD19. Il y sera question de chimie des matériaux hybrides. De quoi aiguiser la curiosité des des plus chimistes d’entre nous… Mais pas que!

Cette conférence est organisée dans le cadre de la chaire “International Francqui Professor” qui nous permet d’accueillir le Prof. Sanchez en Belgique pendant 6 mois.

Clément Sanchez est un pionnier de la chimie des matériaux hybrides, et ses contributions exceptionnelles ont ouvert des perspectives d’applications dans les domaines des céramiques, des vecteurs thérapeutiques intelligents, de la catalyse, des batteries, des cellules photovoltaïques, des polymères, des capteurs, des matériaux biomimétiques, etc. Par « hybride », on entend des matériaux qui contiennent à la fois une composante inorganique et une composante organique. La chimie proposée est généralement basée sur une approche « bottom up » (donc en construisant le matériau brique par brique), en conditions relativement douces (donc potentiellement plus verte). La possibilité d’hybrider des composantes inorganique et organique dans les matériaux ouvre la voie vers une multitude de propriétés et d’applications. Par exemple combiner la rigidité du matériau inorganique avec la compatibilité biologique du matériau organique pour faire des implants.

La conférence est gratuite et ouverte à tous!

Dr. Francesca Paradisi to give a seminar on “Flow biocatalysis” (April 12)

April 12, 14.30 (LAVOB205): please join us for the seminar of our group for which the speaker is Dr. Francesca Paradisi (University of Nottigham).

Francesca Paradisi is an Associate Professor in Biocatalysis and Enzyme Engineering in the School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham. She is very active in biocatalysis, especially focusing on the design of efficient biocatalytic processes in flow mode. Her technology opens up the way to greener chemical processes. Please check her recent review in Trends in Biotechnology. One of her recent focus is on biocatalytic transamination reactions in flow mode, using the enhanced stability and broad substrate scope of an immobilised transaminase from Halomonas elongata. We are excited to hear about this because it resonnates with our own work on flow reactors for enantioselective transamination reactions.

Here is the abstract of the her lecture:

Flow chemistry has allowed many industrial processes to be carried out in continuous mode, with higher efficiency and automation. Biocatalysis has caught up with this technique and several examples have been reported in the literature in the last decade. However, the complexity of multi-enzymatic processes in the absence of cellular regulation, has limited their applications to some chemo-enzymatic synthesis, and just a few fully enzymatic processes have been implemented. Among others, the cofactor requirements of redox enzymes, the stability of the biocatalyst, and efficiency of the biotransformations, must be thoroughly optimised. Furthermore, the mobile phase is rarely recovered, minimizing the real environmental impact of enzymatic reactions. Here I will present our journey with flow biocatalysis, moving to systems of increasing complexity with combinations of several enzymes, which has resulted as a breakthrough in the design implementation of an ultra-efficient zero-waste and closed-loop process with unprecedented atom efficiency and automation.

See you then!


Prof. Michiel Dusselier KULeuven to give a seminar on “Zeolite synthesis for bioplastics production and hydrocarbon conversions”

February 26, 11.00 (MERC14): Please join us at the next seminar of our group, for which the invited speaker is Michiel Dusselier (KULeuven).

Michiel comes from the group of Bert Sels and he is now an independant professor at the KULeuven, with a strong focus on zeolite synthesis and biomass valorisation. His talk will give us the opportunity to discuss some of the most recent progress and discoveries that he and his group have come up with in the recent years, in particular on the catalytic and green synthesis of bio-based monomers for the production of bioplastics (for example: Dusselier et al. Science 2015).

See you there!



Zeolites are well-known and durable catalysts in petrochemical and refinery operations. In the catalytic conversion of bio-derived molecules, or the conversion of (natural) gas, these microporous materials have a role to play as well.[1] Two topics will be discussed to demonstrate the importance of adapting zeolite technology (incl. synthesis) to the development of sustainable processes. The first will be in the context of bioplastics.[2] The synthesis route from sugars to certain polyester plastics is inefficient and I will demonstrate how (petrochemical) zeolite concepts can be successfully introduced to overcome some of the barriers in this field (BEA).[3] In the second part, the focus will be put on the synthesis of zeolites itself,[4] this time in the context of the methanol-to-olefins reaction (MTO). This reaction, known since the 1980s, is getting industrially implemented at high speed. The commercial catalyst is a silicoaluminophosphate, but small-pore aluminosilicates (e.g. SSZ-39, AEI) could become significant competitors, especially when considering that such zeolites are being commercialized for the selective catalytic reduction of NOx in exhaust gas.[5] In general, smallpore zeolite are increasingly in the spotlight and an overview of their synthesis and catalytic chemistry will be given. Finally, it will be shown how studying the synthesis of AEI led to the discovery of a new route to the elusive GME zeolite. The new material, CIT-9, is fault-free and its synthesis presents a truly unique case of conditional and isomeric cis/trans sensitivity related to the organic structure directing agent.[6]

[1] P. A. Jacobs, M. Dusselier, B. F. Sels, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, 53, 8621-8626.
[2] M. Dusselier, P. Van Wouwe, A. Dewaele, E. Makshina, B. F. Sels, Energy Environ. Sci. 2013, 6,
[3] M. Dusselier, P. Van Wouwe, A. Dewaele, P. A. Jacobs, B. F. Sels, Science 2015, 349, 78-80.
[4] M. Dusselier, J. E. Schmidt, R. Moulton, B. Haymore, M. Hellums, M. E. Davis, Chem. Mater. 2015,
27, 2695-2702.
[5] M. Dusselier, M. A. Deimund, J. E. Schmidt, M. E. Davis, ACS Catal. 2015, 5, 6078-6085.
[6] M. Dusselier, J.-H. Kang, D. Xie, M. E. Davis, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 13475-13478

Aleš Stýskalík joins our group as a Marie Curie post-doctoral researcher to study new catalyst preparation routes

A few months ago, our group was reinforced with the arrival of Dr. Aleš Stýskalík. Aleš comes from Brno (Masaryk University) in Czech Republic and has also made a post-doctoral stay in the US, in the group of Craig E. Barnes (University of Tennessee).

Aleš is hired on a Marie Curie projects called NewCat4Bio. The purpose of the project is to develop new catalyst formulations dedicated to the dehydration of bio-based alcohols. We will start with ethanol to obtain ethene. For this reaction, we need acidic catalysts, like for example aluminosilicate (or other metallosilicates). We identify three main challenges:

(1) the catalyst must be a true mixed oxide with an excellent dispersion of the transition metal into the silica matrix, which generate abundant active sites,

(2) the catalyst must develop appropriate textural properties, in particuar large specific surface area and relatively large pore diameters so that its activity is not hampered by diffusional limitations,

(3) the catalyst must be stable under hydrothermal conditions (bio-based alcohols are often available in mixture with water and in any case, their dehydration releases water).

To tackle these challenges all at once, we put forward that non-hydrolytic sol-gel chemistry will offer tremendous opportunities. In a next post, we will disclose how we actually intend to proceed.

I am happy to host Aleš in the team because he is a true expert in sol-gel chemistry, and especially in non-hydrolytic sol-gel. He has recently published a comprehensive review on the topic, which I heartily recommend to read. Our common work will hopefully allow us to continue writing the story of non-hydrolytic sol-gel routes for the preparation of heterogeneous catalysts!


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