Prof. Javier Pérez-Ramírez

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Prof. Javier Pérez-Ramírez, Full Professor of Catalysis Engineering at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, will receive the prestigious 2024 Award for Excellence in Natural Gas Conversion. As an inspirational figure in catalysis, Prof. Pérez-Ramírez has made groundbreaking advances in reshaping the landscape of catalytic materials and processes to address critical energy, resource, and environmental challenges. Throughout his career, the awardee has made landmark accomplishments spanning numerous chemistries and materials classes. This award recognizes his exceptional contributions to advancing the recycling of carbon dioxide for sustainable methanol production at a practical scale. It sheds light on his innovative accomplishments, emphasizing his visionary leadership and the far-reaching impact of his work.

 

The imperative for a shift to non-fossil processes in chemical manufacturing, responsible for a quarter of the Earth’s ecological capacity and 5% of global CO2 emissions, drives Pérez-Ramírez to search for sustainable alternatives. Recognizing the key role of methanol as a fuel and chemical building block that if produced renewably will play a major role in reducing the ecological burden, he concentrated on the direct route of CO2 hydrogenation for methanol production.

 

Another strong impact came with the introduction of operando characterization techniques, providing experimental proof of the originally hypothesized active site. His group achieved a breakthrough by monitoring oxygen vacancies in the catalysts, quantitatively correlating for the first time oxygen vacancy density with the methanol space-time yield under realistic conditions. Expanding on these developments, his group delved into understanding ternary Pd‑In2O3-mZrO2 systems prepared by more industrially amenable impregnation routes, which typically yield unselective palladium nanoparticles. They identified a compositional regime for obtaining highly selective and stable catalysts, showcasing the power of combining different (operando) characterization tools to understand complex architectures of practical catalytic systems. The work revealed the fast dynamics under reaction conditions, leading to the formation of InPdx alloys that secure efficient hydrogen splitting but don’t catalyze the RWGS reaction. The surplus of In2O3 forms overlayers covering part of the surface that couples the required redox and acid-base functionality. Catalytic process development requires a multiscale approach, and Pérez-Ramírez’s group has gone beyond conventional boundaries. Transcending scales from atomic design to process engineering, the team ultimately linked these efforts with absolute impacts on the planet. Taking a visionary approach, they integrated sustainability metrics into their research. Their work examined the sustainability of current chemicals manufacture (One Earth 2021, 4, 565 and Green Chem. 2021, 23, 9881), confirmed the potential benefits of CO2-based methanol synthesis through a planetary analysis (Energy Environ. Sci. 2019, 12, 3425), and identified the most promising product targets (ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2021, 9, 10591). His team recently illustrated the process economics shift in relation to the prior variation in fossil feedstocks making them economically viable, and providing a clear message for policymakers (Green Chem. 2023, 25, 6603). These efforts set a benchmark for sustainability considerations in the field. The recent announcement by TotalEnergies on green methanol production, utilizing Pérez-Ramírez’s In2O3-based catalyst attests to the real-world impact and successful transfer of technology to industry. In a strong partnership, Pérez-Ramírez and TotalEnergies have a broad patent portfolio in this area.

 

The pillars that have made these achievements possible evidence the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of this work, bridging the theoretical description and advanced operando characterization of catalytic materials as well as systems engineering and digital chemistry approaches. Crucially, Pérez-Ramírez’s research on CO2 utilization extends well beyond green methanol.

 

While the main developments have been in thermo-catalysis, Pérez-Ramírez has made significant original contributions toward the electrocatalytic reduction of CO2 (eCO2RR). Firstly, he demonstrated the formation of long-chain hydrocarbons (up to C6) over nickel oxygenate-derived electrocatalysts (Nat. Catal. 2022, 5, 545), overcoming the limited product scope of the widely used copper catalysts. Secondly, his team has recently demonstrated that inert carbonates, the main cause of efficiency losses during eCO2RR, can be directly reduced to high-value formate (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2023, 145, 24707). These studies show the out-of-the-box character of his research, opening new technological avenues. The global impact of Prof. Pérez-Ramírez's research is demonstrated by his extensive publication record of over 480 journal articles, a H- index of 120 (Google Scholar), and over 75 plenaries and 200 invited lectures delivered at conferences worldwide.

 

Besides his inspiring research portfolio, Pérez-Ramírez has extended his influence on sustainable chemistry within the broader community. He established and is directing since 2020 a National Competence Center of Research in Switzerland with the ambitious mission to develop carbon-neutral chemical value chains through catalytic processes (www.nccr-catalysis.ch). His dedication to sustainability aligns with the values of inclusion and environmental responsibility and is further evidenced by his roles in flagship journals of the Royal Society of Chemistry where he is currently Chair of Green Chemistry. Prof. Pérez-Ramírez stands as an exceptional scientist and global leader in innovative, cutting-edge research with direct societal relevance. His research uniquely combines creative discovery with advanced structural and mechanistic understanding, bridging all scales from atomic to planetary.

 

To explore more about Prof. Pérez-Ramírez’s work, please visit https://www.ace.ethz.ch/en/jpr.