The Catalysis Insider



Please enjoy our December issue of The Catalysis Insider. In this issue we focus on our catalyst testing services. We address strategic questions on how to build flexible testing capacity, as well as some of our unique capabilities to test complex and sensitive chemistries and catalysts. I hope you will find our newsletter informative and a good way of keeping in touch. If you have any suggestions to make The Catalysis Insider more valuable, do please let us know.

Since this is the December issue I would also like to take the opportunity to wish you all happy Holidays.


Steven Olivier

Managing Director

Smart R&D Capacity Management

Based on requests from and discussions with our varied customers in recent years, we see a marked increase in the demand for so called application testing. This type of testing increases the understanding of catalyst behavior under different operating conditions (such as temperature, pressure, feed types and feed contaminants), to support the optimization or troubleshooting of chemical processes. This is understandable in view of the continuing increase in complexity of catalyst systems and catalytic processes.

Such demands on testing, in combination with the continuing drive to shorten time-to-market of new catalysts, put substantial stress on available R&D resources. Planning and determining the appropriate testing capacity are made difficult because such application testing can be lengthy (for example with aging tests) and difficult to predict, which results in unexpected peaks in the demand for testing units. Often longer term catalyst development programs are squeezed out by short term demand to serve running business. As research from d’ArtisKancs et al. has shown, the challenge put on the R&D capacity can impact the growth of a company up to a factor of 2.

One approach to tackle this problem is by considering the testing capacity along similar lines as a manufacturing asset in a business with fluctuating demand. Manufacturing companies in such businesses often optimize their assets by applying a flexible, outsourced extension to their base-load capacity. Catalyst testing capacity can be approached in a similar manner and recent research from C. Annique Un showed in “Absorptive capacity and R&D outsourcing” that a diverse approach can help to manage those constraints based on the internal resources.

In this way, outsourced catalyst testing should be considered as a structural part of the R&D infrastructure, instead of on an ad-hoc basis. Of course, externally spent costs often seem high in comparison with using existing fixed assets. However, Rodgers et al. demonstrate that project KPI’s like speed, quality, and innovativeness have a greater impact on the decisions than conventional ones, such as costs. At Avantium, we already see substantial amounts of outsourced projects from companies that have their own high-throughput testing capabilities (figure 1), illustrating that having one’s own high-throughput testing capabilities does not exclude outsourced projects.

We have analyzed the nature of testing projects executed by Avantium over the last 5 years (figure 2), and noted that there are a large amount of projects that are of a structural nature, whereby the R&D departments of companies are viewing outsourced catalyst testing as an integral part of their overall R&D capacity.

In conclusion, integrating external catalyst testing capacity into your existing internal infrastructure can help to handle the conflicting demands of both short-term testing and long-term programs.


Annique Un – Absorptive capacity and R&D outsourcing

d’ArtisKancs et al. – R&D and non-linear productivity growth

Peter Rodgers et al. – Determinants of location choice decisions of offshored R&D projects

Figure 1: This graph shows outsourced project to Avantium by companies that have their own R&D or even high-throughput testing capabilities.
Figure 2: The nature of testing projects executed by Avantium over the last 5 years.

Avantium’s Lab

Your Access to Accelerated Catalyst Testing

Did you know that we have more than 700 reactors available in our laboratories in Amsterdam? This includes various high-throughput, multi-parallel testing platforms, both fixed-bed and batch.

These reactors are based on our unique Flowrence Technology platform. With this in-house technology platform we are able to perform catalyst testing tailored for the various R&D stages of a catalyst in line with customers’ objectives.

No matter what R&D stage you are in – from early discovery to commercial evaluation – we generate outstandingly accurate and repeatable data for you. Hence, small changes in catalyst behavior can be readily detected and catalysts can be reliably differentiated. Another valuable feature is the usefulness of the results – test results correlate with those from larger-scale experiments and even the data from commercial plants. Moreover there is the ability to generate far more data than traditionally possible, leading to clearer and deeper insights into catalyst behavior and process performance.

We have many ways in which we can apply our capabilities and expertise to serve your R&D needs. How we do so, is entirely up to you. Our concern is that you benefit from enhanced technical decision-making, which ultimately translates into greater competitiveness and profitability.

Defined catalyst testing projects

Customers ask us to conduct well-defined catalyst testing projects, often part of more extensive R&D programs. We help customers devise the most appropriate catalyst testing solutions in line with their specific catalyst and process testing objectives. We take pride in our ability to deal with short lead times and turn out results quickly.

Depending on the R&D stage of the catalyst development, we have dedicated testing systems available, varying from 4- to 64-fold flow reactors in parallel, and a multitude of parallel batch reactors. Different operating conditions can be varied in line with the requirements needed. Project durations can vary from just a few weeks up to multi-year programs.

In the table below typical catalyst testing requirements per R&D stage are presented. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Research collaborations

We are accustomed to working in integrated teams with customers to formulate experimentation strategies around specific R&D objectives and, ultimately, to deliver them.

The collaborations benefit from having (high-throughput) catalyst testing equipment, catalyst preparation, well-qualified experts and a top-class data analytical capability all under the same roof.

Our experts have a reputation for unconventional thinking and boast an impressive track record of developing novel approaches to seemingly intractable R&D challenges.

Our testing services can be supported by:

  • Consulting on catalysts & chemistries
  • Design of experimentation
  • Catalyst preparation
  • Analytical method development
  • Workflow integration, data analysis and modelling

Obviously, catalyst and process IP stay with the customer with all Flowrence Technology Service projects.

The Top 5 – Reasons Why…

Reviewing the projects we have executed with our customers in recent years, we identify the following top 5 reasons why customers outsource their research to us.


1. Long duration catalyst life testing 

Customers face various testing needs that compete with each other. Especially long duration catalyst aging test, occupying testing equipment for a very long time, are often hampered by the limited availability of dedicated equipment. Customers outsource this type of testing to us and value it as reliable and cost effective.

2. Extend capacity

This can vary from accommodating temporary single testing constraint up to long-term, dedicated multi-year testing programs. Avantium guarantees consistent and reliable data customers can believe in. The Avantium laboratories are located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

3. Optimize design-of-experimentation or solve exotic testing challenges

We have already found solutions to many exotic R&D challenges. For our experts nothing’s off limits. We are known as unconventional thinkers with a unique way of working. Read a practical example around handling sensitive chemistry below. LINK

4. Industrially scalable results

Refineries and chemical plants make their catalyst selection based on our testing results. They value that we are the leading independent testing company. Our testing facilities are also used in the process development phase and demonstrate high reproducibility with bench scale reactors. More relevant data can be obtained safely in shorter time at lower costs. LINK

5. Staff constraints

The access to state of the art technology and well-qualified experts offers peace of mind. Effective collaboration is safeguard by our focus on customer needs and objectives. We are easy to work with, result oriented and we deliver timely.

Yes, We Can!

Handling your sensitive chemistry

A common concern in the chemical industry is the testing of chemistries with moisture and oxygen sensitive catalysts. Doing so in a reliable, reproducible and safe manner can prove prohibitive to many R&D facilities. If there was a way to even run those chemistries in a high throughput experimentation mode, perhaps those processes can be improved faster than ever before.

Drying-out a large testing set-up can take a long time and is often unsuccessful due to moisture pockets, etcetera. Small and compact testing equipment offer a significant advantage over larger set-ups with bigger volumes of tubing and reactors, due to the reduced efforts to apply an inert atmosphere from the sample preparation to the final start of test run.

Furthermore, an easy to use reactor loading which allows a catalyst exchange in seconds can significantly reduce the risk of contamination with traces of moisture or oxygen during the loading. But, this is only one part of the total workflow. Taking other factors like amount of chemicals used and accuracy of control into account then our Flowrence Technology based systems have an intrinsic advantage of handling those kinds of chemistries over more conventional high throughput systems.

Tailoring such systems for short term projects in your own research facilities can be a cumbersome procedure as additional infrastructure within the laboratory might need to be installed and the scientists and operators need a more dedicated training to run those mostly short term projects.

Within Avantium we are faced with those challenges on a regular base and have, therefore, made multipurpose laboratories available for such tests. But perhaps even more important, we have the right experts to handle those chemistries from the feed preparation down to the analytical results.

As an example you can see in the pictures above two tailored solutions we developed for a customer to execute a high margin hydrocarbon conversion chemistry with moisture in the low ppm level in the hydrocarbon feed in a high throughput way for the first time. This required new ways of thinking for feed and reactor handling under inert conditions and the transfer into the unit.

In this short video one of our operators demonstrates how we load air sensitive catalysts into the Flowrence Technology unit. This is achieved thanks to an inert atmosphere specialized glovebox that we adapted to our in-house Flowrence Technology units. Even with this setup, loading the reactors is still only a matter of seconds.

Using the application knowledge of our experts and utilizing the flexibility of the Flowrence technology allows us to deliver our outstanding accuracy to our customers in the most cost effective way for those challenging chemistries.

On The Road

EuropaCat in Florence, Italy

For the first time we brought our Flowrence XD to a conference. Many of you showed their interest in this unit designed for the Discovery R&D stage. Thank you!

Read about the Flowrence XD

NCC in Tianjin, China

During the NCC we had the opportunity to get to know the Chinese market a bit better. Thanks to everyone who took the time to attend the interactive Avantium workshop and provided input to this fruitful meeting on catalyst testing.


ERTC in Athens, Greece

ERTC is gradually becoming the most important refining event in Europe. Avantium was present with a booth. Perhaps you have also seen our advertisement in the event brochure.

Read more about Refinery Catalyst Testing

Frequently Asked Questions

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