Flow control in catalyst research

November 14, 2023 Nico Kocks & Jos Abbing

The use of catalysts already has led to better biodegradable plastics, new pharmaceuticals, improved fuel cell performance… and more. Let’s hope they also solve part of our energy transition needs, with a little help from Bronkhorst…!

Why catalysts can help with our transition to clean energy 

Hydrogen carriers show great potential for safely and efficiently transporting energy over long distances. However, the process of preparing and using hydrogen carriers needs to be improved, and catalyst research can play a crucial role in this optimization. One important factor in supporting successful research is the use of adaptive fluidic feed control and accurate measurements offered by Bronkhorst flow devices. These devices help control the necessary flow of fluids, compositions, and process parameters.

In this blog post, we will explain the reasons behind these efforts and how we contribute to this important research.


The growing need for hydrogen

Hydrogen is a highly promising and potentially sustainable energy carrier, especially for long-term energy storage and transportation. There is an increasing demand for hydrogen as industries, including the chemical sector, are transitioning to using it as a feedstock. Additionally, hydrogen is essential for applications that require extreme heat and power, which cannot be achieved solely through electrification.


For shorter to medium distances, land-based transportation through pipelines or trucks, carrying pressurized hydrogen, is the most suitable option. However, the current hydrogen pipeline infrastructure is still in the preliminary stages of development, limited in capacity and range, and mainly confined to regional areas.

Cryogenic transport is better suited for longer distances but comes with its challenges. The preparation process to turn hydrogen in a cryogenic state, requires a significant amount of energy. Moreover, as the distance increases, there are significant boil-off losses associated with cryogenic transport.


The promise of hydrogen carriers

(Liquid) hydrogen carriers offer a promising solution for simplifying the handling and safety challenges associated with gaseous hydrogen. These carriers allow for virtually loss-free transport at atmospheric or near-atmospheric pressure and temperature conditions.

Some promising examples of liquid hydrogen carriers include Ammonia (NH3), Methanol, Formic acid, organic hydrides, and Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers (LOHC). Optimization is needed to make the conversion process more sustainable and easier to manage. 

However, the current process of converting hydrogen into a hydrogen carrier, and vice versa, faces difficulties. These processes often have a large carbon footprint, making them energy-intensive and inefficient. Additionally, different types of hydrogen carriers require varying levels of health and safety measures.

Worldwide focus is to find hydrogen carriers that do not have these current difficulties.

Catalyst research for hydrogen carriers

Catalysts play a crucial role in speeding up chemical reactions and reducing the required temperature and pressure by lowering the activation energy. They can have a significant impact on the optimization of hydrogen carriers.

Different catalysts are needed for the forward and reverse reactions. Effective conditioning and experimentation are necessary to determine the effectiveness of new catalysts, considering actual conditions such as pressure, temperature, gas amounts, and liquid or vapor mixtures.

This highlights the importance of accurate fluidic feed control and measurement to obtain the required parameters for single or multiple compositions. Repeatability is crucial for comparing test results and setups. Factors like pressure and temperature variations, as well as the design and installation of the process, reactor, tubing, and piping, can introduce biases.

Mass flow control in chemical market

The contribution of mass flow control

Our highly accurate and repeatable gas & liquid mass flow measuring instruments are suitable for even the lowest flow conditions. The EL-FLOW and mini CORI-FLOW instruments, when used as flow controllers, can compensate for changes in upstream and downstream conditions through integrated closed-loop feedback. Traditional valves and pumps may drift without notice, but our flow instruments provide stability under varying feed conditions.

The latest multi parameter FLEXI-FLOW devices offer extremely fast measurement and control of mass flow, as well as inlet and outlet pressure. The additional temperature reading enables full process control. Modern diagnostics can detect system failures such as clogging, pressure drop, or backflow.

Examples of customer projects in catalyst applications

If you are interested in learning how we can improve and support your research, you can find useful information in various application notes: 

Please contact us for some more practical advice. 

Would you like more information about flow control in catalyst research?

Ask for advice