Q: What are the main responsibilities of INSTM within the project?
A: To answer this question, it is useful to recall that the general objective of the PERFORM project is contributing to establish a new technological infrastructure. This infrastructure is aimed at the highly selective transformation, by the electrochemical way, of raw materials from biomass into intermediates for the chemical industry, thus reducing the dependence of our society from the traditional compounds derived from fossil fuels and at the same time, integrating renewable energy resources into industrial production.
To establish this new low carbon route for chemical production integrating removable energy sources and alternative bio-based carbon sources, the focus was pointed on a specific investigation of two target paired reactions.
These reactions lead to the preparation of some platform molecules deriving from biomass (Maleic Acid, Valeric Acid, for the reaction line 1 and Glucaric Acid, and Adipic Acid for the reaction line 2).
These small molecules have been selected thanks to their functional groups and associated reaction sites and could be utilised as building blocks for higher-value chemicals and materials. The novelty lies in the approach used to effect this transformation: using electrochemistry.
The two paired reactions, carried out by PERFORM, involve electron transfer in the oxidation and reduction reactions with significant advantages concerning the current industrial processes. It is possible to eliminate the use of high O2 pressure or hazardous chemical oxidants, used in chemical oxidation, or suppress the by-products production typical of microbial fermentation. In the electrochemical route, the reactions can be operated under mild conditions, and via tuning the electrode potential and using appropriate catalysts, a high product selectivity can be obtained.
To promote and carry out the electrochemical reactions, suitable electrocatalysts are required. INSTM role dials with researching, developing, and creating these new highly selective and efficient electrocatalytic materials capable of transforming the renewable bio-based raw materials (Furfural, Levulinic Acid, Glucose) into the corresponding intermediates (Maleic Acid, Valeric Acid, Glucaric Acid, Adipic Acid).
Therefore, we can conclude that INSTM works at the heart of the PERFORM project, and is responsible for the key innovation point of the project, for which it is providing the synthesis, development and upscaling of all the catalysts involved in the target reactions.
Setting up an efficient electrocatalyst is not a simple operation, catalysts are more and more high-tech, a sophisticated composite material based on nanostructures having dynamic properties (that is a suitable behaviour during the reaction) chemical properties related to the chemical state of the active phase, acidity, and surface composition/structure and physical properties such as surface area, porosity, density, and mechanical strength.
These properties are interdependent between them; therefore, a clear understanding of their relationships is necessary to optimize a catalyst. Moreover, it is necessary to meet further requirements related to the industrial use of the materials concerning stability, cost, resource availability, scalability, poisoning, the environmental impact of exhausted catalyst and recovery.
Q: How is INSTM coordinating the Electrode Platform Innovation?
INSTM periodically collects data from the activities carried out by all work package (WP2) partners, analyses, integrates them, highlights their critical or particularly interesting elements, and reports them to all partners by convening specific technical workshops both face-to-face and online. The problems are discussed within the WP2 partners, or a broader audience if the subjects involve other WPs, updating from time to time the direction plan on which to focus the research activity. INSTM also takes care of drawing up periodic technical reports on the progress of the project, deliverables, and milestones. The documentation is uploaded to the SharePoint to make it available to partners for consultation.