Improving catalyst design

Improving catalyst design

Identifying enablers in a complex catalyst system


Sulphur compounds are major contributors to air pollution, which causes enormous health and economic problems. Hydrotreating catalysts remove sulphur from oil, but the mechanisms by which they work are unclear. Our client asked us to generate ideas for new ways of designing and making hydrotreating catalysts to deliver radical new performance benefits.


We used materials science, condensed-matter physics, and chemistry to map the effects of the manufacturing process on the physical and chemical properties of the catalyst over a range of length scales. We explored how these properties affect catalyst activity, identified uncertainties, and created hypotheses that might resolve them. We then used the hypotheses to identify changes in the manufacturing process which could deliver performance improvements.


The client received testable, novel ideas arising from plausible hypotheses for the behaviour of an extremely complex and poorly understood system. The project resulted in six focused targets for further work. We presented our unique methodology to all of our client’s catalyst scientists in a webinar and at an internal symposium.