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SINTEF is an independent, not-for-profit research foundation, the largest research foundation in Norway and one of the largest in Europe. SINTEF is a broad, multidisciplinary research foundation with internationally leading expertise in technology, the natural sciences and the social sciences. SINTEF carries out research and innovation projects for industry and the public sector, and we are by far the largest Norwegian participant in EU research programmes.

SINTEF's research is intended to facilitate the transition to a sustainable society. SINTEF is the ēQATOR project coordinator. In addition, SINTEF is contributing to the technology development with coking studies, long-term catalyst testing and process and reactor simulation and development.

Learn more about SINTEF's contribution to the ēQATOR project by reading the interview below, in which Richard Heyn explains the role of the organization within the project and the vision and goals that shape the development of ēQATOR reactor technologies.

Richard Heyn


Please introduce yourself and your role in the project!

My name is Richard Heyn. I am the chief research scientist at SINTEF Industry, in Oslo, and I am the coordinator of the ēQATOR project.

How did you learn about the project and become a partner?

The story is that the SINTEF, together with a couple of other partners, some of which are in ēQATOR, some of which are not - I have over the years applied for EU projects within catalysis - so when this call came up on these catalytically heated reactors, we started discussing. This was something of interest. “Can we generate a proposal?”. And so, through a number of iterations, we ended up here where we are, where we're looking at the actual catalytic reactors for the conversion of biogas into syngas, and then after, methanol. And so, Johnson Matthey and CNRS and other partners have been sort of on board since the beginning. I was introduced to Nextchem. Very soon after, Walter Tosto sent an e-mail to my boss, and then they got involved through that and we just filled in as we needed. And then Elias at Stuttgart and MCI and KIB, they had another initiative and we decided to join forces a few months before the proposal deadline.

What is your organisation's role in the project, and what expertise do you bring to the table?

We have one of our groups up in Trondheim has a lot of experience with doing dry reforming, so they are doing a lot of work on long-term testing and the driver reforming catalysts and that's very important. They are also building what we call a middle dusting tool because what happens is carbon can be deposited on the inside of metallic reactors and cause decomposition. So they're looking at that and we are also going to be looking at the kinetics of any coking that may occur in the catalyst through an instrument we call an ISMA, which is an oscillating reactor, so that what happens is when coke is formed the weight of the catalyst changes and because the reactor is oscillating, we can measure those small changes and determine how much coke is formed and then generate kinetics data from that. SINTEF expertise would be, in short answer, the catalyst testing and kinetic studies on changes in the catalyst during the reaction times.

How is your organisation collaborating with other partners in the project?

So we're doing a lot of collaborations with the partners doing the catalyst development. That would be Johnson Matthey, CNRS, the University of Stuttgart, Keramic Innovation, and MCI, in Austria. We are looking at the long-term catalyst studies. We'll be looking at the coking mechanism and the connection of the coking, when we're heating these catalysts with microwaves and we'll also be working on some coating of the monolith catalyst for the resistivity.

How do your project activities contribute to the goal of the project to achieve a cost-competitive renewable methanol production with near zero CO2 emissions?

We have to have stable catalyst formulations in order to achieve our goal. And all of these studies that we're doing on term with the long-term stability studies with the cooking studies are directly relevant to ensuring that we have a catalyst system that is robust and we'll be able to withstand the rigors of the experiments for a long period of time. It's not cost-effective to keep on exchanging catalysts every three months, every six months, you need something that has long-term stability and, with respect to the coating, you have to have a stable catalyst formulation in order to achieve this low-cost methanol synthesis that we want to achieve. And so, having a stable catalyst formulation on these monoliths which can be resistively heated is very important.

Regarding your tasks, what do you expect are or will be the greatest challenges during the project?

We have to build the reactor! (laughs) For me, the biggest challenge is the timelines with respect to ensuring that we build these TR 6 reactors that will be located in Italy, and being able to demonstrate at that Tier 6 level that this chemistry, this technology actually works now. I mean, there are other aspects regarding whether or not we will actually be able to achieve the heating that we want to achieve, but I'm actually relatively positive and optimistic with respect to that. It's just making sure that, all the things and all the studies that need to be done in order to build a reactor for the demonstration Those are very tight timelines, and that's for me. That's the biggest challenge.

If you had one wish regarding the project, what would it be?

I'm hopeful that we'll be able to show that it is viable to use biogas as a sustainable carbon source. A lot of biogas today is used simply for energy. So the methane separate from the CO2 and then you use the methane for energy generation and the CO2 is lost. If we're able to show that you can actually use biogas for sustainable chemicals production and use all the carbon that's in the biogas. Then we're talking about a step change in how methanol, a very common chemical, can be made. We're not going to replace the large-scale methanol production plants that currently exist around the world, but I have this vision that, through the ēQATOR technology, we'll be able to start developing local methanol communities, where you have a biogas source, you create the methanol and then the methanol is used locally as an energy source or for other applications and sort of generate local economies based on a renewable resource.

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