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CatLab – Catalysis Laboratory

About CatLab


Novel catalysts for efficient energy conversion

Climate change mitigation demands a rapid large-scale defossilation of our energy system, necessitating a drastic expansion of renewable energy, and the development of alternative, sustainably produced chemical energy carriers.

Those are essential for long-term energy storage, a key enabler for the transformation of the mobility and industrial sectors. The success of the energy transition in Germany and Europe hinges on the ability to store and import substantial amounts of the required total energy, as synthetic chemical energy carriers, which is integrated into a European hydrogen market.

The main objective of this project is the development of new types of catalysts to ensure efficient conversion of chemical energy into electrical energy.

Contributions - enlarged view

Contributions of CatLab


Three core challenges have to be tackled to achieve CO2-neutral energy systems that are based on renewable electricity as a primary energy source on a global scale:

  • Accelerated expansion of generation of renewable electricity

  • Sustainable hydrogen production

  • Long-distance transport and storage of hydrogen using synthetic energy carriers

  • Energy-efficient conversions into synthetic fuels and basic chemicals

To meet these challenges innovative chemical conversion processes based on new tailor-made (chemical, electrical and photo) catalysts have to developed and rolled out on an industrial scale. Each catalyst must contain a combination of multifunctional materials that are manufactured in a controlled process.

Multidisciplinary research in physics, chemistry, materials science, electrical engineering and data science will be essential for the successful design and manufacturing of new catalysts

Fields of activity

The initial focus with regard to the field of application of the novel thin film catalysts will be on the endothermic release of hydrogen from hydrocarbons and its immediate further reaction with CO or CO2 to form long-chain alcohols.

This requires the research and development of functional thin-film systems that are adapted to the respective reactions. The close proximity to the synchrotron source BESSY II and the laboratories with their various analysis and characterization options allows short feedback loops. The development of these new catalyst systems is supported by the methods of digital catalysis, the computer-aided modeling of complex catalyst-reaction-reactor systems. Chemical reactors required for the use of the new catalysts are planned, built and operated in various configurations jointly by MPG and

In addition, the involvement of large companies from the very beginning of the project will cover the entire innovation chain and generate added value for Berlin and Germany in general.


Geometric and electronic strutures

Operando Microscopy and Spectroscopy

In addition to the preparation of the thin-film systems and their catalytic testing, the core of the research in this project is an in-depth investigation of the geometric and electronic structure of the catalyst systems using spectroscopic (XPS, NEXAFS, IR, Raman, ...) and electron microscopic (SEM, TEM ,. ..) methods. The knowledge-based approach pursued in this project requires a complete analytical characterization of each work step under the working conditions of the later process (operando methods). Central here is the barrier-free use of the possibilities of the synchrotron BESSY II for spectroscopy and microscopy on thin layers under reaction conditions. They allow an effective solution of the extremely challenging analytical tasks and are ideally adapted to catalytic investigations.

Catalytic Reactions

Catalytic Reactions

The focus of the catalytic reactions within the scope of this project is on the endothermic release of hydrogen from hydrocarbons and water as well as its immediate further reaction with CO or CO2 to form long-chain alcohols. The focus of the research is the direct energy input into the active phase of a catalyst.

Layer systems

Thin Film Catalysis

The thin-film systems considered in the project initially follow the knowledge that has been gathered from powdered catalysts. In addition, families of systems are being investigated and developed which, with increasing complexity, place ever higher demands on the mastery of thin-film technology and which promise improved performance. Above all, the systems are chosen in such a way that the processes of chemical dynamics can be followed analytically and thus the scientific approach always remains verifiable.

Digital Catalysis

Digital Catalysis

Digital catalysis aims at the theory-supported development of heterogeneous catalyst systems. The focus here is on data acquisition and documentation. In addition to standardized data acquisition, the further development of standard measurement campaigns and the reading out, storage and display of metadata for all device parameters should make a significant contribution to the success of this project. The knowledge-based approach requires close cooperation with theory and a seamless analytical characterization of each work step under the working conditions of the later process.

Innovationplatform for Reactor and Process Development

Reactor Development

Chemical reactors, which are required for the use of the new catalysts, are planned, constructed and operated in various configurations jointly by MPG and HZB in cooperation with the chemical industry. It can be assumed that there will be considerable expenditures for new developments, in particular with the aim of optimized lower energy input for the reactor. Based on this concept, it is planned to transfer reactor systems from the laboratory scale to prototype development.

The Ecosystem: Collaboration between world's leading catalyst groups

CatLab strengthens the collaboration between the world's leading catalyst groups from the Max Planck Society, the UniSysCat Cluster of Excellence, industry and the Helmholtz Association's energy research program. The chemical industry has shown great interest in CatLab right from the start. A project associated with CatLab between an internationally renowned company and the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin was started in June 2020.

The new office and laboratory building (blue area) is to be built in the immediate vicinity of BESSY II and other laboratories  ©HZB/Foto: D. Laubner

CatLab brings together an international team of catalysis experts.


Prof. Dr. Bernd Rech

Prof. Dr. Bernd Rech
Scientific Director Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
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Prof. Dr. Robert Schlögl

Prof. Dr. Robert Schlögl
• Director at Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (retired)
• President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
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Prof. Dr. Serena de Beer
Director at Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (Inorganic Spectroscopy Department)
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Prof. Dr. Karsten Reuter
Director at Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max-Planck-Society (Theorie Department)
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Prof. Dr. Beatriz Roldan Cuenya
Director at Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max-Planck Society (Interface Science Department)
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Prof. Dr. Rutger Schlatmann
Director Competence Center Photovoltaics Berlin (PVcomB) at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
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Prof. Dr. Roel van de Krol
Director of the Institute for Solar Fuels Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
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Dr. Steffi Hlawenka
CatLab Scientific Coordinator at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
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Dr. Katarzina Skorupska
Group Leader at Fritz-Haber-Institute
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Chunge Xia
CatLab Assistent am Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
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Communications & Public Relations

Sophie Spangenberger
Communications, Public Relations & Events at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin
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