Asahi Kasei Principal Expert Ken Suzuki honored with Prize for Science and Technology
Development Category Prize for Science and Technology in the 2019 Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

April 9, 2019
Asahi Kasei Corp.

Asahi Kasei Principal Expert Dr. Ken Suzuki, Senior General Manager, Chemistry & Chemical Process Laboratory, Corporate Research & Development, and Senior General Manager, R&D Planning and Business Development, Basic Materials SBU, was selected for a Development Category Prize for Science and Technology in the 2019 Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The prize recognizes Dr. Suzuki’s contribution to the development of gold–nickel oxide (Au–NiOx) nanoparticle catalysts with a core-shell structure. The award ceremony will be held in Tokyo on April 17, 2019.

Dr. Ken Suzuki
Dr. Ken Suzuki

Development of the unconventional core-shell structure of nanoparticle catalysts was highly original, and while Au nanoparticles have been the subject of much attention for the development of catalysts in recent years, these are the first to be successfully utilized in a commercial process. Technology for precise control of the nanostructure produces outstanding practical results, and is expected to be widely influential on catalyst development moving forward.

By contributing to solutions to the world’s challenges related to the environment, resources, and energy, catalysts play an extremely vital role in supporting people’s lives. Asahi Kasei has continued to focus on the development of innovative high-performance catalysts with novel functions to help solve such issues. The award announced today recognizes the discovery of Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts with a core-shell structure having superior performance and, in a plant producing methyl methacrylate (MMA), their successful use as the world’s first Au nanoparticle catalysts in a commercial chemical production process.

MMA production plant using Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts
MMA production plant using Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts

The Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts have a core-shell structure supported on a silica-based carrier, with the Au nanoparticles at the core and the surface covered by highly oxidized NiOx. This structure of nanoparticles having a particular chemical state provides superior catalytic performance than the Au nanoparticles catalyst or the palladium-lead catalyst previously used for MMA production. Stability of the catalyst is raised by the formation of complex oxides at the interface between the NiOx and the metallic components of the carrier, providing a stable bridged structure of Si-Al. Physical abrasion and detachment are suppressed by the high strength of the silica-based carrier and precisely controlled distribution of the catalyst components, enabling long service life of the catalysts in industrial application.

Typical transmission electron microscopy images of Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts and proposed structure of nanoparticles
Typical transmission electron microscopy images of Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts and proposed structure of nanoparticles

In a process using isobutylene as starting material, the catalysts are used to synthesize MMA by oxidation and esterification of methacrolein in a single step in the presence of methanol with oxygen under mild conditions. This MMA production process features reduced consumption of energy and resources, no pollution, and higher yield, greater safety, and superior economic performance compared to conventional processes.

Aerobic oxidative esterification of methacrolein with methanol to form methyl methacrylate using supported Au–NiOx nanoparticles as the catalyst
Aerobic oxidative esterification of methacrolein with methanol to form methyl methacrylate using supported Au–NiOx nanoparticles as the catalyst

Prizes for Science and Technology are awarded by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, to people who achieve outstanding results in R&D and the advancement of understanding related to science and technology. The prizes serve to encourage the effort of individuals involved in science and technology while elevating the standard of science and technology throughout Japan.

The Au–NiOx nanoparticle catalysts with a core-shell structure not only enable high activity, high selectivity, long service life, reduced consumption of energy and resources, and superior economic performance, but also are expected to be widely applicable for various other oxidation reactions with highly efficient action.

Asahi Kasei believes that this technology will contribute to chemistry and the sustainable development of the chemical industry as a solution to issues of the environment, resources, and energy, and the company will continue to develop groundbreaking catalysts and chemical processes that provide new value to society.