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REALCAT : Driving Innovation in bioeconomie

In the frame of the Investments for the Future (PIA) - EQUIPEX, the research project REALCAT has been awarded of 8.7 M€ funding from the French government and 700 000 euros from the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER) and the Fondation Initiative of Centrale for the development of a unique platform in the world, dedicated to the development of catalysts for industrial biorefineries. Three laboratories, located on Lille University's campus have gathered their forces to design such a challenging project: UCCS (Unit of Catalysis and Solid State Chemistry), specialized in homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis; the Institut Charles Viollette (ICV - USC INRA - EA 7394), specialized in biocatalysis and CRIStAL (Research center in Computer Science, Signal and Automatic Control of Lille), specialized in computer engineering, data treatment, bio-informatics, modeling and analysis of biologic systems. This offers to REALCAT a very strong scientific background in the field of high-throughput catalysis.

Catalytic materials are at the heart of many societal challenges and are an essential response to current major issues such as, energy, health, food, transportation and environmental protection. Catalysis is thus an high-growth market and is the source of over 80 % of the added value of the chemical industry. New golden age of catalysis in the chemical industry is currently living a revolution to gradually use less fossil fuels and more renewable resources (biomass). In this industrial context, the concept of biorefineries is quickly growing but still requires the development of new high-performance catalysts compatible with these new sources of raw material.

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Today REALCAT develops the catalysts of tomorrow

Conventional methods for catalyst development are really time and money consuming, as classical and iterative "trial and error" methods for synthesizing and testing catalysts are still needed. Theoretical prediction of optimal catalyst composition, structure and/or conditions of preparation for a given reaction is not yet possible. Therefore, there is a strong need for rapid preparation, characterization and screening of catalytic systems.

The REALCAT platform responds to this problem and is able to cover each of the steps of a catalyst development: The platform is actually equipped with robots for automated synthesis of catalysts and biocatalysts, rapid characterization tools, and ultra-fast tools for catalytic performance evaluation.

High-throughput technologies of the platform allow carrying out a large number of experiments in a minimum of time. A such approach considerably accelerates the development of new catalytic processes while being really cost-efficient.

The use of statistical experimental designs is an outstanding mean to further increase the efficiency of our high-throughput approach. It enables obtaining high quality, reliable and reproducible conclusions using a specific set of targeted experiments.

By using this exceptional equipment, large amounts of data are collected. They are stored and processed using a fully integrated informatics system. The use of an advanced software layer, including in-house solutions, enables correlation between catalyst synthesis and their performances, to speed up a little bit further the whole process of new catalyst discovery.

Finally, REALCAT is the first platform in the world that intimately integrates skills and technologies in chemistry, biotechnology, mathematics, computer science and statistics. This constitutes the main added value of REALCAT, which represents the first worldwide implementation of the next generation laboratory in the field of catalysis.

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