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Paraffin Activation

In this programme we concentrate on the potential to utilise large volumes of carbon-based feedstock in the form of linear alkanes through the activation of the alkane backbone by the introduction of functional groups or double bonds. Increasing availability of alkane as starting material results from it being a by-product of the expanding use of gas-to-liquid fuel technology. Currently much of this material is used as low value fuels and solvents without necessarily achieving its optimum configuration. The activation of alkanes to desired products with maximum efficiency has potential to ensure much enhanced efficiency of fossil fuel reserves from which these are chiefly sourced.

To activate the alkane, we concentrate on the introduction of an oxygen-containing functional group at the primary carbon. This may be extended to the introduction of further functional groups and formation of internal double C=C bonds. The activation of alkanes is being addressed through 3 technologies: biocatalysis, heterogeneous catalysis and homogeneous catalysis. Further, our studies are centred on developing learning from highly efficient biological catalyst design to use the biomimetic approach to improve the efficiency of our process.

The activation of alkanes is considered a tough research problem internationally. This arises from the inert nature of the carbon back bone as well as the difficulty of ensuring the formation of long chain products. For example, once oxygen is introduced into the backbone, the product is more reactive than the reactant, leading frequently to its further reaction, often its complete oxidation. The large feedstock, great potential of valued intermediates and products, as well as value in maximising use of non-renewable resources drive researchers worldwide to address this challenge. In South Africa, it is particularly valuable owing to linear alkanes being a product of the coal to fuel technology in which we excel as well as our growing interest in and use of gas-to-liquid-fuel technology which yields large amounts of linear alkanes. In addition to the push by feedstock, the pull of the potential product range has potential in the extension of the chemical industry while the potential use of knowledge from biological systems may contribute towards the aims of the National Biotechnology Strategy of South Africa.

Current Projects – Paraffin Activation (PAR) Programme

Code

Project

Institution

PAR-02

The nature and mechanism of oxygenases

UFS

PAR-03

Biofunctionalisation of alkanes

PAR-03.1

Biofunctionalisation of alkanes

UCT

PAR-03.2a

Oxygen transfer and interfacial area in model hydrocarbon bioprocesses

US

PAR-03.2b

Ethanol production by Zymomonas mobilis through cell retention

US

PAR-05

Biomimetic paraffin activation

UKZN

PAR-06

Biomimetic approach to alkane activation catalysts

PAR-06.2

Liquid-phase par. act. studies with heter. and supported catalysts

UKZN

PAR-06.3

Dendrimer based catalysts for the oxidation of alkanes

US

PAR-07

Data modelling of alkane activation

US

PAR-08

Application of triazolium base NHC-Fe catalysts for paraffin activation

UKZN

Researchers – Paraffin Activation (PAR) Programme [2014]

Name

Role

Institution

Project Involvement

S. Harrison

Programme Manager

UCT

PAR; PAR-03

M. Bala

Project Leader

UKZN

PAR-06.2; PAR-08

L. Callanan

Project Leader

US

PAR-07

K. Clarke

Project Leader

US

PAR-03.2; PAR-03.3

H. Friedrich

Project Leader

UKZN

PAR-05; PAR-06.2

S. Mapolie

Project Leader

US

PAR-06.3

R. Rawatlal

Project Leader

UKZN

PAR-03.3

M. Smit

Project Leader

UFS

PAR-02; PAR-03

C. Fenner

Research Team Member

UCT

PAR-03.1

A. Kotsiopoulos

Research Team Member

UCT

PAR-07.2

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