Novel iron catalysts for the production of alpha-olefins

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Linear alpha-Olefins are an important class of organic compounds as they are key precursors in the generation of a number of fuels, petrochemicals and fine chemicals. Consequently, the field of alpha-olefins represents an essential market that is in constant demand in the energy formation sector.

Traditionally, linear alpha olefins are synthesised by two main routes: ethylene oligomerisation and Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis. However, ethylene is an expensive industrial raw material, and additional emission processes and energy costs are usually associated with the formation of conventional FTS catalysts.

Researchers at Oxford have tackled this issue and developed a novel and more sustainable method for the preparation of such catalysts. The new catalytic system allows for high conversions of CO2 and/or CO and H2 into desired olefins.

A growing alpha-olefin market

Alpha-olefins consists of a family of organic compounds characterised by having a double bond at the primary (or alpha-) position, which translates into an enhanced reactivity of the molecules. The global alpha-olefin market is expected to continue to witness a rise in demand from end-use industries such as automotive, chemical and plastic.

The production of alpha-olefins from syngas (CO and H2) is known as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (FTS) and typically proceeds through an iron-based catalyst.

However, the olefin to paraffin ratio in the products is relatively low and requires a further dehydrogenation process. In addition, commercial catalyst preparation processes often result in high carbon emissions and require high energy consumption.

Novel FTS Catalyst

Researchers at Oxford University have developed a novel and sustainable method for the preparation of iron-based FTS catalysts with low or even no emissions using very low energy inputs. The new catalytic system allows a high conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) with selective formations of desired olefins.

Potential applicability of the alpha-olefins includes the generation of:

  • Fine chemicals and oil field chemicals
  • Surfactants for detergents and personal care
  • Polyalphaolefin based synthetic lubricants
  • Plasticisers and automotive
  • Polymers such as polyethylenes
  • Polyolefin co-monomers


Oxford University Innovation Ltd. has filed a priority patent application on the technology and welcomes discussions with companies interested in licensing it for commercial development.

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