Syllabus Catalysis Course (SK-BKATA)


Catalysis is everywhere! Catalysts can, amongst others, be found in our body (enzymes are essential for life), they are applied in the automotive industry (to clean exhaust fumes), in laundry detergent (to break down food remains on your dirty clothes) and in the chemical, and food industries (no gasoline, plastic, beer, bread or wine without the right catalyst). The importance of catalysis as a tool for the chemist is further illustrated by the fact that 90% of all new chemical processes has one or more catalytic steps. In these lectures, we will treat the different sides of catalysis, more specifically bio-, homogeneous, and heterogeneous catalysis, together. While in biocatalysis mainly enzymes function as catalysts, in homogeneous catalysis these are mainly organometallic complexes and in heterogeneous catalysis, they are porous solid inorganic materials. In this course, we want to stress the differences and similarities within the different disciplines so that you are capable of assessing a chemical conversion in a multidisciplinary fashion. Theory and practical lectures will be tools to gain a general understanding of the different subsections.

In the second part of the course, academic context is key. In a group assignment, a catalytic process will be assessed on its potential to convert both fossil and renewable resources into an important chemical compound. This results in a paper and a poster presentation. During the excursion, the participants will get a feeling for the scale of the chemical industry, and integrated approaches to make a process economically viable. Furthermore, the importance of safety is stressed. Last, as catalysis goes hand in hand with innovation, a lecture on patent law will be given by Professor Eelco Vogt (Universiteit Utrecht/Albemarle). 

After successfully passing this course, you will be capable of getting a global impression of a scientific article in a catalysis journal. It should provide you with tools to solve a problem with the most suitable approach. Furthermore, there will be enough theoretical baggage to understand societal problems and provide you with an academic vision.


Prof. dr. ir. B.M. (Bert) Weckhuysen (coordinator)
Prof. dr. P.C.A. (Pieter) Bruijnincx
Prof. dr. E.T.C. (Eelco) Vogt
Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Utrecht University

SK-BKATA Further Information


To treat the concepts of catalysis in an integrated manner as a tool for the chemist. Bio-, homogeneous- and heterogeneous catalysis will be covered.

Study load

7.5 ECTS-points

Form of education

Lectures, practical sessions, excursion, poster presentation, report and chemistry in context.


The courses Organic Chemistry 2, and Inorganic Chemistry and Solids from the 2nd year bachelor are recommended to follow this course. In case these subjects have not been followed, it is the student’s own responsibility to contact the respective lecturers when problems may arise.

Study material

Syllabi, text material and handouts will be made available (e.g. via Blackboard); also, the book “Catalysis, Concepts and Green Applications, 2nd Revised & Enlarged Edition”, Wiley-VCH, Gadi Rothenberg, 2017.


Exam (65%) assignment (35%)

  • Partial grades should be at least 5,0
  • Final grades should be at least 5,5 (which becomes a 6,0).

For reexamination, the following requirements are set:

  • The final grade should be at least a 4,0.

Students that have passed the group assignment last year are eligible for exemption this year. In that case, the results of last year will be used for grading this year.

Meerklasje: (+1pt)

For excellent students, who wish to deepen their knowledge in catalysis (and, consequently earn up to 1 full extra point on the total course mark) we offer an extra assignment. This assignment will result in a graded presentation on a current topic in catalysis for which up to 1 bonus point may be earned. Each student will get a recent high impact paper around which she/he will construct and give a 10-minute presentation. This way the students who join the “meerklasje” will both deepen their knowledge in a current topic in catalysis and improve their presentation skills. As part of this assignments, participants to the meerklasje will be visiting our catalysis laboratories twice to see how research in catalysis actually takes place.

The earned bonus point will be void for the re-take exam.


The written exam has 3 questions; 1 question per part. The different subsections each have their own weight, which will contribute to 1 final grade:

  • Heterogeneous catalysis: 47%
  • Molecular catalysis: 47%
  • Lecture patent law: 6%

Group assignment

Practical information: The assignment subjects include chemical substances among the most largely produced building blocks:

  • butadiene
  • styrene
  • heptanal
  • acrylamide
  • acrylonitrile
  • methyl methacrylate
  • phenol
  • propylene
  • pyridine
  • maleic anhydride
  • terephthalic acid
  • ethylenediamine

Groups of 6 students will be made based on individual interest in a certain topic.


  • To get insight into a current industrial catalytic production process, to design new catalytic production processes based on renewable resources and to assess and reflect on the sustainability issues and advantages of the old and new routes. To this extent, a chemical substance currently produced in large volumes and used as chemical building block will be chosen. The status quo process to obtain such chemical should first be presented. Then, two alternative routes should be found, one starting from CO2, one from biomass/waste. Such routes should be a multiple-step catalytic process. 20% of the assignment should be dedicated to the sustainability considerations of the old and new routes.

Paper (Contents)

  • Describe the chemical substance of choice, its physical properties, applications and the production routes that are currently in use, focusing specifically and into depth to the status quo of the current mostly employed way of producing it;
  • Give a general overview of other two alternative routes, one route starting from CO2, one with Biomass/waste as starting material;
  • Describe a detailed overview of the catalytic steps of both routes. Take all conditions and properties of the process into critical account; that is, process conditions, mechanism, catalyst materials (structures), etc.

Poster (contents)

  • Two posters should be created, one for the route starting from CO2 and one for the Biomass/waste alternative. Both posters offer the current industrial route as introduction. A template for the poster will be made available on Blackboard. This template should be strictly adhered to. Pay attention to the deadline for approval of the poster and the printing deadlines at Xerox.
  • Furthermore, the title and a PDF file of the poster should be sent to the assistants Laurens Mandemaker and Silvia Zanoni (contact details below).


  • Week 37: Work on the assignment, look for literature and discuss the approach.
  • Week 38: Discuss the approach, and study literature of the catalysis assignment. 21st of September, hand in the plan of approach.
  • Week 39: Meet with professors to discuss the plan of approach.
  • Week 40: 5th of October, hand in first version of poster.
  • Wek 41: 12th of October, hand in second version of poster and first version of paper.
  • Week 42: Discuss/feedback on the first version of the paper.
  • 17th of October: poster needs to be sent to Xerox to print at the latest.
  • Week 43: 22nd of October, poster presentation
  • 2nd of November, BEFORE 17.00 h: hand in paper to supervisor (PDF format, via e-mail).


The excursion will be day-long and on October 19th. The excursion will take place at an industrial company. PLEASE NOTE: for the excursion we need an ID-card or passport number (no drivers licenses). This same document should be brought on the day itself to be checked. Furthermore, be aware of the clothing requirements; closed-toe shoes, long pants and long sleeves.


For any general questions regarding the paper, excursion, and results, please contact:

Laurens Mandemaker;

Silvia Zanoni; 

Study goals/contents

Introductory lecture
  • The essence of catalysis; breaking and making bonds.
  • Strengths/weaknesses analysis of bio-, homogeneous, and heterogeneous catalysis.
  • Driving forces for trends in catalysis.
  • Economical and societal relevance of catalysis.
  • Brief history of catalysis.

Heterogeneous catalysis

General theory of catalysis, heterogeneous industrial catalysis and kinetics
  • Heterogeneous catalysis; overview, including crude oil refinery, vegetable oil refinery, polymerization catalysis and automotive catalysis.
  • Effect of adsorption and complex formation on kinetics, including Langmuir adsorption.
  • Activated complex theory and the concept of active site
  • Temperature dependence activation energy
  • Langmuir-Hinshelwood and Eley-Rideal kinetics
  • Sabatier principle and structure-sensitivity of catalytic reactions
Theory of and research on heterogeneous catalysis
  • Adsorption of atoms and molecules on solid surfaces
  • The active site and its environment: Support, solvent and confinement effects
  • CO/CO2/H2/hydrocarbons reactions on metal (oxide) catalysts
  • Solid Brønsted acids as catalysts, including zeolites
  • Brønsted and Lewis acid catalyzed reactions of hydrocarbons
  • Hydrogenation and oxidation catalysis on metal surfaces

Molecular catalysis

General aspects of molecular catalysis, similarities between the fields
Theory of, research on and industrial application of homogeneous catalysis
  • Binding in organometallic coordination complexes
  • Elementary reaction steps in organometallic complexes
  • Activation of substrate molecules
  • Examples of homogeneous catalytic processes (hydroformylation, polypropylene)
Theory of, research on and industrial application of biocatalysis
  • Active centers of enzymes, structure and specific interactions
  • Typical reaction mechanisms: acid-base catalysis, covalent catalysis
  • chirality, kinetic resolution
  • biotech applications, immobilization
  • protein engineering/directed evolution
  • (Single) enzyme kinetics (Michaelis-Menten)
Group assignment
  • Setting up a plan to produce a chemical substance which results in a paper and a poster.
  • Excursion, including presentations and demonstrations from employees.

Resumes of the lecturers

Prof. dr. P.C.A. Bruijnincx

Pieter Bruijnincx received his PhD at Utrecht University in 2007, developing homogeneous iron-based catalysts for selective oxidation reactions. These catalysts mimicked the structure and function of non-heme iron oxygenases, a versatile family of oxidation enzymes. After his promotion, he did a postdoctoral stay in England where he worked in the field of chemical biology on the design of organometallic and coordination compounds as inorganic anti-cancer drugs. In  2009 he returned to Utrecht University and joined the Inorganic Chemistry & Catalysis group to work on the development of new catalytic processes for the sustainable production of chemicals and fuels from biomass. As of 2018 he is full professor in ‘Sustainable Chemistry & Catalysis’ at the Organic Chemistry & Catalysis group.

Address: David de Wiedgebouw, room 5.82, Universiteitsweg 99, 3584 CG Utrecht; Tel.: 06-22736354, E-mail:

Prof. dr. ir. B.M. Weckhuysen

Bert Weckhuysen studied to be an engineer in chemical and agricultural industries at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). After he received his PhD in the field of heterogeneous catalysis in 1995, he fulfilled a postdoctoral position at American catalysis laboratories for two years, where he became more acquainted with catalyst characterization methods. In 2000 he became a full professor at the Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis group of the Debye Institute for Nanomaterials at Utrecht University. Since 2018 he is Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University. His research entails the characterization of the working catalyst by the help of microscopic & spectroscopic techniques, and the development of new catalysts for the production of chemical building blocks from sustainable resources, including biomass, waste and carbon dioxide. His research team strives to build a “powerful camera” to chemically image active solid catalysts from the level of the chemical reactor down to the level of single atoms and molecules.

Address: David de Wiedgebouw, room 4.82, Universiteitsweg 99, 3584 CG Utrecht; Tel.: 030-2534328, E-mail:

Prof. dr. E.T.C. (Eelco) Vogt

Eelco Vogt earned his PhD. at Utrecht University in 1988. His dissertation concerned the preparation and properties of catalysts supported on modified silica and upon completion of his PhD, he began working as a researcher at the catalysts business unit of Akzo Nobel. During his industrial career he worked on a.o. on hydro processing catalysts (HPC), zeolites, and fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) catalysts. From 1996 to 1999 he worked in Akzo Nobel’s research lab in Pasadena, near Houston, Texas. Akzo Nobel Catalysts was acquired by Albemarle Corporation (a catalyst company based in Charlotte, North Carolina) in 2004. Dr. Vogt went on to become director of several different businesses of the corporation and he was also was R&D manager for Albemarle’s R&D center in Bergheim, Germany. In 2014 he is professor by special appointment of Refinery Catalysis at the group of Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis at Utrecht University.

Address: David de Wiedgebouw, room 2.78, Universiteitsweg 99, 3584 CG Utrecht; E-mail: