Chemical looping for raw material change

10 November 2016

Scientists from the Cluster of Excellence “Unifying Concepts in Catalysis” of Berlin University of Technology have won the Prize for Innovation from the German Gas Industry.

Vinzenz Fleischer, Samira Parishan, Reinhard Schomäcker and Marc Oliver Bettzüge © ASUE / Andreas Weinand
Reinhard Schomäcker © UniCat / Jacek Ruta
Samira Parishan © UniCat / Jacek Ruta
Plant for oxidative coupling of methane using a chemical looping process © UniCat / Jacek Ruta

On November 09, the chemists Professor Dr. Reinhard Schomäcker, Dr. Vinzenz Schneider, and Samira Parishan were honored with the Prize for Innovation in the category for research and development.

The chemists were awarded for their research on the oxidative coupling of methane using a chemical looping process. The prize honors their work and ideas, which can make natural gas processes more efficient and thereby lead to a more careful use of natural resources.

The Association for the Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Use of Energy (ASUE) has been awarding the German Gas Industry Prize for Innovation and Climate Protection, in cooperation with gas industry associations and partners since 1980.

Raw materials from natural gas

Natural gas is up to 98% methane, which is relatively inert and inexpensive. The oxidative coupling of methane (OCM) is a method to synthesize valuable hydrocarbons, such as ethylene. These have to date been almost exclusively obtained from increasingly scarce crude oil. "The oxidative coupling of methane is subject to many side reactions, so that an industrial application is not yet attractive," says Professor Schomäcker.

In conventional reactors the simultaneous input of methane and oxygen at high temperatures leads to excessive heating and increased formation of undesired products of combustion. This is where Vincent Schneider’s idea comes in. Dr. Schneider wrote his doctoral thesis while part of Professor Reinhard Schomäcker’s research group, and is now working at Evonik Industries.

Chemical Looping

In the chemical looping process both reactants are fed into the reactor, separated by time or space. "This method allows significantly higher ethylene yields to be achieved than other means that use fixed-bed reactors," says Samira Parishan. She is currently driving the project forward as a PhD student in Professor Schomäcker’s group.

In the first step, the catalyst is oxidized with air and residual oxygen is removed using a purge gas. In the second step methane is directed over the oxidized catalyst, so that the coupling takes place with virtually no side reactions.

The research work of the three awardees was done within the framework of the Cluster of Excellence “Unifying Concepts in Catalysis“ (UniCat).


UniCat is an interdisciplinary research network within the Excellence Initiative of the German Research Foundation. Its main focus is on catalysis. Four universities and two Max Planck Institutes in Berlin and Potsdam are involved in UniCat. Approximately 50 working groups collaborate across disciplines on research areas that are of major interest to future scientific developments in raw material change and energy turnaround.

The areas studied by the working groups include the chemical conversion of methane to ethene, the chemical and enzymatic activation of carbon dioxide, the catalytic production of hydrogen from water using sunlight as the energy source, and the synthesis of active substances with the help of artificial enzymes. The Berlin University of Technology (TU Berlin) is its host University.


The patron, Dr. Barbara Hendricks, Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety says: "The Paris climate agreement committed us to ambitious climate protection. Now it is essential for us to honor this commitment and bring it to life. The numerous projects for a responsible use of energy here at home also contribute to this goal."

Together with their members from the energy industry, manufacturers of efficient application technologies, and energy service providers, the Association for the Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Use of Energy (ASUE) promotes the research, development and market introduction of energy-saving and environmentally friendly technologies based on natural gas. To this end, the ASUE maintains a network of experienced engineers and specialists.

Movie: Chemical looping for raw material change (german)


For further information please contact:

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Schomäcker, UniCat Cluster of Excellence, Chemical Reaction Engineering;
phone: +49 30/314-26906, E-Mail: schomaecker(at)  and

Dr. Martin Penno, UniCat Cluster of Excellence, Public Relations,
phone: +49 30 314-28 592, E-Mail: martin.penno(at) ,