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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!


A “Personal Account” – An opportunity to reflect on your own work

I was recently invited to contribute to a special issue of the journal “The Chemical Record“. The journal mainly publishes articles called “Personal Accounts”. In such paper, the author is invited to share a review written from a personal perspective, to highlight the author′s own contributions to a specific area of chemical research. This is a rather unusual format. And it is definitely an interesting exercise to do; I recommend it.

I decided to cover the main achievements we have come up with in the past few years, at the frontier between materials chemistry and heterogeneous catalysis. My Personal Account goes through several examples for which innovative sol-gel chemistry methods have allowed us to prepare new kinds of heterogeneous catalysts with interesting properties (and performance!).

This includes

Writing this article gave me the chance not only to reflect on my own work, but also to realize how lucky I have been to collaborate with inspiring scientists. In particular, the cross-fertilization between the “materials” and the “catalysis” communities is such an efficient way to come up with new ideas! Writing also allowed me to realize which research directions I find the most exciting, what part of my work I am the most proud of. Finally, writing gave me inspiration for the next steps. It definitely helped me figure out more precisely the next projects I am now planning to write.

And very importantly, in this paper I had the chance to write a longer acknowledgments section, not only dedicated to funding agencies, but also to the colleagues, mentors, students, collaborators, etc. who have taken more than their fair share in making my ongoing journey in academic research possible. I hope not to trespass the copyright agreement by copy-pasting this full paragraph here 😉

I thank Eric M. Gaigneaux for introducing me to the world of scientific research and specifically to the field of heterogeneous catalysis. I thank the FNRS and the University of Louvain for putting trust in me when I was successively selected as a PhD student, post-doctoral researcher and then associate professor. I want to thank the researchers who have been involved in the different projects summarised here: Ludivine van den Biggelaar, Sreerangappa Ramesh, Ara Kim, Karim Bouchmella, Mariana Stoyanova, Romain Delaigle, Alvise Vivian, Surasa Maksasithorn, Pierre Eloy, François Devred, Claude Poleunis. I want to thank Hubert Mutin (Université de Montpellier) and Clément Sanchez (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris) for the incredible opportunities they have offered me to collaborate on exciting research projects at the boundaries of scientific knowledge in materials science. I am indebted to them for making me a better scientist. I want to thank Rénal Backov, Alexandra Chaumonnot, Nicholas J. Turner, Sabine L. Flitsch, Uwe Rodemerck, Shengyong Lu, Eduardo Miro, Viviana Milt, Alejandro Karelovic, Carmela Aprile, Chrystel Faure, Capucine Sassoye, Cédric Boissière, Patricio Ruiz, Piyasan Praserthdam, Kongkiat Suriye, Denis Uzio, Bert Sels, Ovidiu Ersen, Simona Moldovan, Patrice Soumillion, Sophie Carenco, David Portehault, Martin J. Weissenborn for the national and international collaboration opportunities.

#CatalysisTweepsMeeting at Europacat 2017

The small community of researchers who are active both in the field of heterogeneous catalysis and on Twitter had an informal get-together during the Europacat conference in Florence. The meeting, held in bar down town on the evening of the second day of the conference was a great opportunity to meet our colleagues in person, long after having “met” them on Twitter. Some of us stayed relatively late…



Attendees (follow them!):

Damien Cornu @damienaberlin

Carlos Carrero @CarlosCatalysis @CarreroGroup_AU

Ewa Nowicka @EwaNowicka7

Damien Debecker @deuxbeck

Riikka Puurunen @rlpuu @AaltoCatalysis

Nishtha Agarwal @nishtha_14 @CCI_Cardiff

Pedro Castro @Piter_Castro

Juan M. Venegas @JuanMVenegas

Simon Freakley @Drsimonf

Sari Rautiainen @SariRautiainen

Kostas Goulas @goulas_catal


Also present at Europacat but not at our meeting (follow them 😉 ):

Michael Rowan @ChemCatChem

Hamid Arandiyan @HamidArandiyan

Victor Baldovino @vigabalme


I hope I didn’t forget anyone.


As a reminder, I have created a Twitter list for accounts which tweet about (mainly heterogeneous) catalysis. It is here. Nice way to keep up to date with what is shared and discussed in our field. I am happy to add people; just get in touch with me.



CiteScore: Elsevier’s new metrics for impact

In Elsevier’s words: “CiteScore metrics: a new standard that gives a more comprehensive, transparent and current view of a journal’s impact.”

Are you guys really sure about this? I just collected the Impact Factor and the CiteScore values for a range of journals in my field (chemistry, catalysis, materials science). Here is how the metrics correlate:

Like them or not, both metrics rely on similar calculation methodss, ultimately reflecting the average rate of citations for papers published in a given journal. Whether you love or hate Impact Factors, you can safely love or hate CiteScore in the same way.


Honored to receive the “Green Chemistry for Life” grant from UNESCO, IUPAC and PhosAgro!

A few days before the deadline for the call, I was about to abandon the preparation of the project, due to a lack of time (and, I confess, a little bit of procrastination). It is my colleagues from Halle, Martin Weissenborn, who sent me a few emails encouraging me to wrap up the application and offering his precious help to do so. Thank you Martin for the boost! As I couldn’t make it to St Petersbourg last week, it is Martin who represented the project, recieved the certificate and gave the awardee talk.

Martin Weissenborn recieves the award at the 21st International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2017), St. Petersburg, Russia

The grant programme aims to promote the implementation of innovative research projects in green chemistry by young scientists that respect the principles of green chemistry. A grant of ~ US$30,000 is awarded to support a one-year research project. This award will allow me to start an exciting collaboration with Martin’s excellent research group active in the development of enzymes. It will also allow us to follow up on promising results we are currently obtaining in the lab. I am also happy for my PhD student, Ludivine van den Biggelaar, who will have the opportunity to enrich her research experience with a stay in Germany and with stimulating new experiments.

Our project aims at developing greener ways to produce important drug precursors, in this precise case, chiral amines. These molecules can be obtained by classical multi-step processes, which involve the use of organometallic catalysts and harsh reaction treatments. These processes however require intensive purification procedures and have a relatively poor environmental performance. Enzymes can do the job in a much greener fashion, but they need to be immobilized on a suitable support to allow their recovery and reuse. Another way to make the process even greener is to switch from batch to continuous processes. To that end, we produce macroporous foams that can be easily used as an enzyme carrier in a flow process. The project supported by the programme is to use a combination of 2 or more enzymes to carry out a cascade reaction leading to the desired chiral amine, with high (enantio)selectivity. To do this, we have to engineer and select our own enzyme mutants able to make the targeted reactions. This is the job of our partner in Halle. The grant will allow us to team up for the development of a truly green and efficient continuous production process relying on enzymes.

I am thankful to the Green Chemistry for Life programme: this kind of tools supporting the initiative of young researchers is really precious. Multidisciplinary research is essential. Thus, fostering effective collaboration is key. I met Martin Weissenborn during a post-doctoral research stay at the University of Manchester in 2011. Since then we have been keeping in touch, always promising each other to collaborate “one day”. The grant offered by the Green Chemistry for Life programme allows us to finally make this happen.


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