Skip to content

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.


Plus que 3 jours pour postuler à un mandat d’assistant

Les assistants sont une pièce maîtresse de notre système d’enseignement et de recherche universitaire. Ils réalisent un doctorat (PhD) et assistent les profs en se chargeant des travaux pratiques, labo, séances d’exercices, etc. La Faculté des Bioingénieurs ouvre 4 postes cette année. La deadline pour postuler est le 22 mai. Il y a 4 domaines couverts.

Pour ce qui concerne les enseignement dont j’ai la charge, c’est cet assistant qui sera concerné (chimie physique, matériaux et procédés): lien vers l’annonce

Le ou la candidat(e) devra choisir un(e) promoteur(trice) de thèse et un sujet. Si c’est moi, ça parlera de catalyse ou de biocatalyse hétérogène. N’hésitez pas à me contacter (damien . debecker @ uclouvain . be) ou à contacter la Fac.


Seminar: Methods for the Development of Novel Enzyme Activities: Carbonyl-Olefinations (May 9, 14.00)

In the framework of a collaboration – supported by the recently obtained “PhosAgro/UNESCO/IUPAC research grant in green chemistry” – we have the pleasure to host Jun.-Prof. Martin Weissenborn in our lab.

Martin comes from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry, in Halle, Germany. I had the chance to work with him during my post-doctoral stay at the University of Manchester, in 2012. He was then a PhD student in the group of Sabine Flitsch and Nick Turner. Now, this collaboration will allow us to jointly to follow up on this work.

Martin will present a lecture on May 9 (14.00, LAVO 51, Place Louis Pasteur in Louvain-la-Neuve). He will focus on how to find novel enzyme activities.

Please join us!

Here is the abstract of the talk:

Biocatalysis has a growing ‘toolbox’ of commercially available enzymes which are capable of catalysing functional group interconversions with exceptional regio- and stereoselectivities. Biocatalysts for the formation of C–C bonds, however, are largely undeveloped. Due to their importance in organic chemistry and to build complex molecules for the use in synthetic biology, enzymes can be used as catalysts for C–C bond formations.  Organisms consist of a vast diversity of proteins which vary in size, structure and function. E. coli, for instance, contains 4400 proteins of which only 50 % have been experimentally characterised. Most of these proteins are presumably promiscuous. Screening organisms such as E. coli with non-natural substrates — like carbenes — could reveal new enzyme activities and promiscuities of thus far uncharacterised proteins.  Therefore, a general method to find novel enzyme activities has been employed which recently resulted in the identification of the first enzyme catalysed carbonyl-olefination reaction. This method is structured into three parts: 1) probing the natural repertoire of proteins by utilising concentrated cell lysates, 2) performing biocatalytic studies on the identified protein and reaction, 3) developing the corresponding protein towards useful and industrial relevant substrates and products by using directed evolution in combination with a cell growth selection assay.  This general approach is applicable to any organism and catalytic reaction of interest.  My talk will be about the employed method to find novel enzyme activities as well as the discovered enzymatic Wittig-type carbonyl-olefination reaction and its application.  

%d bloggers like this: