Synthesis and characterisation of pillared clay catalysts for hydro-cracking of heavy liquid fuels

  • Maria E. Gyftopoulou

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


A range of chromia pillared montmorillonite and tin oxide pillared laponite clay catalysts, as well as new pillared clay materials such as cerium and europium oxide pillared montmorillonites were synthesised. Methods included both conventional ion exchange techniques and microwave enhanced methods to improve performance and/or reduce preparation time. These catalytic materials were characterised in detail both before and after use in order to study the effect of the preparation parameters (starting material, preparation method, pillaring species, hydroxyl to metal ratio etc.) and the hydro cracking procedure on their properties. This led to a better understanding of the nature of their structure and catalytic operation. These catalysts were evaluated with regards to their performance in hydrocracking coal derived liquids in a conventional microbomb reactor (carried out at Imperial College). Nearly all catalysts displayed better conversions when reused.
The chromia pillared montmorillonite CM3 and the tin oxide pillared laponite SL2a showed the best "conversions". The intercalation of chromium in the form of chromia (Cr203) in the interlayer clearly increased conversion. This was attributed to the redox activity of the chromia pillar. However, this increase was not proportional to the increase in chromium content or basal spacing. In the case of tin oxide pillared laponite, the catalytic activity might have been a result of better access to the acid sites due to the delaminated nature of laponite, whose activity was promoted by the presence of tin oxide. The manipulation of the structural properties of the catalysts via pillaring did not seem to have any effect on the catalysts' activity. This was probably due to the collapse of the pillars under hydrocracking conditions as indicated by the similar basal spacing of the catalysts after use. However, the type of the pillaring species had a significant effect on conversion. Whereas pillaring with chromium and tin oxides increased the conversion exhibited by the parent clays, pillaring with cerium and europium oxides appeared to have a detrimental effect. The relatively good performance of the parent clays was attributed to their acid sites, coupled with their macropores which are able to accommodate the very high molecular mass of coal derived liquids.
A microwave reactor operating at moderate conditions was modified for hydro cracking coal derived liquids and tested with the conventional catalyst NiMo on alumina. It was thought that microwave irradiation could enable conversion to occur at milder conditions than those conventionally used, coupled with a more effective use of hydrogen. The latter could lead to lower operating costs making the process cost effective. However, in practice excessive coke deposition took place leading to negative total conversion. This was probably due to a very low hydrogen pressure, unable to have any hydro cracking effect even under microwave irradiation.
The decomposition of bio-oil under microwave irradiation was studied, aiming to identify the extent to which the properties of bio-oil change as a function of time, temperature, mode of heating, presence of char and catalyst. This information would be helpful not only for upgrading bio-oil to transport fuels, but also for any potential fuel application. During this study the rate constants of bio-oil's decomposition were calculated assuming first order kinetics.

Date of AwardDec 2005
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTony Bridgewater (Supervisor)


  • pillared clays
  • characterisation
  • conversion
  • coal derived liquids
  • bio-oil

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