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Anna Winiwarter




DTU Fysik



Prices for renewable electricity have been falling in the last decade, which motivates the development of electrochemical processes in the chemical industry. Here, instead of using high temperature to drive a chemical reaction, an electrical potential is applied, as known for example from water electrolysis or the refinement of aluminum.

In this thesis the electrochemical partial oxidation of propene, a small, unsaturated hydrocarbon gas, is studied. Today, propene is the starting molecule for the production of important commodity chemicals, such as acrolein and acrylic acid, which are widely used in the polymer industry, for example to make acrylic glass or acrylic paint. In addition, propylene glycol is made by oxidation of propene, which is commonly used for example as a humidifying additive to both food and cosmetics.

When oxidizing hydrocarbons, the catalytic challenge is to avoid full oxidation to CO2, which is the thermodynamically most stable product. By using an electrochemical reactor, it is easier to control the reaction conditions and thereby avoid the full oxidation. Propene is an ideal test molecule for studying trends in electrochemical oxidation of hydrocarbons, because of its molecular structure.
We studied palladium and palladium-gold alloys as a catalyst for this reaction. On palladium, we found that surface adsorbates control the reaction mechanism leading to high selectivity towards the production of acrolein and acrylic acid. Our insights will help in the design of an improved catalyst with high activity for hydrocarbon oxidation.