Hydrogenation Catalyst – An Indispensable Supplement

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Hydrogenation- a quick look at the process

When molecular hydrogen (H2) is reacted with another compound or element in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel, palladium, or platinum, the process is called hydrogenation. In this reaction, pairs of hydrogen atoms are added to a molecule, generally an alkene using a catalyst. Without a catalyst, hydrogenation market requires very high temperatures. Since hydrocarbons are typically more reactive, hydrogenation reduces double bonds and triple bonds in them and lowers their ability to split off and form two bonds of a lower bond order.

Need for Hydrogenation- 

Hydrogenation is mostly used to convert liquid oil into solid fat and hence reduce or saturate organic compounds. It helps to preserve, purify and solidify many products and raw materials. Hence is has a variety of applications.

Versatile Applications of Hydrogenation

  • In the food industry: Hydrogenation is used to turn unsaturated fats and oils into saturated ones. Hydrogen is added to oils extracted from plants such as vegetables, sunflowers, olives, etc. to solidify them. Hydrogenated oils are even sold directly as spreads and margarines. They are also used in baked goods like cakes as well as biscuits to improve their taste and texture.  Hydrogenation helps preserve food products, as saturated oils are more stable and less reactive. As such, they increase the shelf-life of packaged food items.
  • In Chemical Industry Ammonia, alcohols, pharmaceuticals, margarine, polyols, various polymers, and chemicals (hydrogen chloride and hydrogen peroxide) are products that undergo hydrogenation. Hydrogenation has recently been used in chiral chemistry.  The hydrogenation process is being brought into play in the production of chiral using the homogenous asymmetric catalysis technology providing organic compounds such as the highly versatile R-3-Quinuclidinol (C7H13NO), intermediates of APIs, synthesized in various processes and reactions.
  • In the Petrochemical Industry:  Hydrogenation is significantly used in coal processing. Solid coal is converted into liquid by the addition of hydrogen. Liquefying coal facilitates its use as fuel.  In petrochemical processes, hydrogenation is used to convert alkenes and aromatics into saturated alkanes (paraffin) and cycloalkanes (naphthenes) which are solid hydrocarbon mixtures and hence less toxic and less reactive. These compounds are used to make candles, wax, paper and lubricants.
  • In Bio-fuel Industry: Biofuels obtained from the hydro treatment of vegetable oils can be used to replace fossil fuels, providing a sustainable alternative to meet the growing global energy demand.
  • In Pharmaceutical Industry: Hydrogenation reactions are invariably the second most prominent reaction during pharmaceutical industrial API syntheses and constitute about 14% of all chemical transformations. Direct hydrogenation of pharmaceutical precursors with hydrogen gas has been acknowledged as “the most atom-efficient process” as compared to using other costly sacrificial reducing agents such as hydrides (LiAlH4, NaBH4) or borane reagents.

The Role of Catalysts

Hydrogen is normally unreactive toward organic compounds. Hence the presence of a catalyst to facilitate a reaction becomes mandatory. Catalysts always increase the rate of reaction of hydrogenation of the element by decreasing activation energy.

Platinum, palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium form highly active catalysts. They operate at lower temperatures and lower pressures of H2. Non-precious metal catalysts, especially those based on nickel (such as Raney nickel and Urushibara nickel) have also been developed as economical alternatives, but they are often slower or require higher temperatures.

Platinum combines well with hydrogen and is often regarded as the best catalyst for hydrogen generation, the only drawback being it is a rare metal and expensive. Nickel is used at 200 degrees Celsius while Platinum and Palladium are used under the normal temperature range. Nickel is generally used in the hydrogenation of oil since it is economically viable and easily available.

Types of Catalysts used for Hydrogenation

Catalysts can be homogeneous or heterogeneous

Homogeneous catalysts dissolve in the solvent containing the unsaturated substrate.

Heterogeneous catalysts are solids, such as palladium, platinum, rhodium, nickel, cobalt, etc., that are suspended in the same solvent along with the substrate or treated with the gaseous substrate.

Catalysts can also be specific compound-based

Crabtree catalyst and Wilkinson’s catalyst

Crabtree’s catalyst is an organoiridium compound. It is a homogeneous catalyst for hydrogenation and hydrogen-transfer reactions, developed by Robert H. Crabtree. Wilkinson’s catalyst is a complex compound whose coordination center is rhodium. Crabtree’s catalyst is effective in the hydrogenations of mono-, di-, tri-, and tetra-substituted substrates and Wilkinson’s catalyst is extensively used as a catalyst in the hydrogenation of alkenes.

 Hydrogenation Catalyst Market Synopsis


Hydrogen Catalyst Market Size – Current and Estimated

The Hydrogenation Catalyst Market Size stood at $22 billion as of 2022 and is expected to reach $34 billion by 2032 growing at a CAGR of 5%.

Factors positively influencing the market trend:

  • The use of hydrogenation in the food industry
  • The numerous commercial applications of hydrogenation
  • The growing demand for biofuels
  • The significant research and development in the field
  • The introduction of innovative processes, reaction methods, manufacturing procedures, and novel products
  • High Competition among the market players and the growing number of mergers and acquisitions

Factors negatively influencing the market trend:

  • Stringent government regulations imposed on hydrogenation owing to the emission of toxins.
  • Rare metals such as platinum are extremely rare and very expensive
  • Adverse effects of hydrogenation of vegetable oils on human health.

The Hydrogen Catalyst market shows a lot of potential for growth and revenue generation

Hydrogen Catalyst Market Forecast

Region expected to show the most favorable growth

Asia Pacific is expected to garner the largest market share considering the rising demand for hydrogenation catalysts in China. Apart from that, the world’s first demonstration device producing 1,000 tons/year of gasoline from carbon dioxide hydrogenation is located in Zoucheng Industrial Park, Shandong province, China, and has recently completed its trial operation and technology assessment. Moreover, the world’s largest hydrogen reactor, weighing 3,025 tonnes and a height of 72 meters was recently installed by China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) in Zhoushan, China. Further, the rising demand for petroleum refining in Japan is also propelling market growth in the region.

North America is not far behind, owing to the high occurrence of platinum reserves in the Sudbury basin of Canada and also in parts of the western USA. Apart from that, increasing scientific research and development and exploring the capabilities of platinum is significantly driving the market in this region.

In Europe, many prominent companies are significantly pursuing research and development in the field. Biazzi SA, is a process engineering company offering processes and plants for hydrogenation. It offers a modern hydrogenation laboratory for scale-up and development trials and also hydrogenation reactors and plants from 10 liters to 50 m3, from 10 to 200 bar.

Prominent Players active in the Hydrogenation Catalyst Industry are:

Clariant AG, Johnson Matthey, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Sinopec Int’l, Albemarle Corporation, Topsoe, Honeywell International Inc., Reaxa Limited, W. R. Grace and Co.-Conn.,Solvias AG, Evonik Industries AG, BASF SE, and others.

Recent Developments in the Hydrogenation Catalyst Industry

  • Catalysts business unit of Clariant has recently made a significant investment to modernize its research facility in Toyama, Japan, preparing it for faster, more efficient experimentation. This center is already involved in nickel-based hydrogenation and styrene catalyst development.
  • Johnson Matthey’s (JM) PURAVOC GREEN purification catalysts have been qualified by Shell for use in its global hydrogen production projects. Shell will now be using JM’s catalysts to remove trace oxygen to meet oxygen specifications in the production of high-purity, zero-carbon hydrogen.
  • BASF has completed its well-established selective hydrogenation catalyst E 15x series with two innovative product lines i.e., the new catalyst families E 15x S and E 15x L. The new sulfur-resistant E 15x S catalyst family helps to process contaminated feedstock, enabling reliable process operation and thereby making low-quality feedstock containing higher amounts of impurities easier to use. The new E 15x L catalyst family is the most cost-efficient solution for hydrogenation units launched by BASF. It minimizes the amount of precious metal needed for a hydrogenation catalyst, without compromising catalyst activity.


Hydrogenation is indispensable in the food industry. Vegetable oils do not spoil or go rancid as easily as compared to regular oils. Hence, they have a longer shelf life and can help processed foods such as crackers and snacks last longer. But there is a major drawback associated with hydrogenated vegetable oils, it comes from their trans fats, which is known to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowers “good” HDL cholesterol.

As such, considering the harmful effects of hydrogenated vegetable oils, which is correlated with an increased risk of heart disease, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that, as of June 18, 2018, food manufacturers will not be allowed to add partially hydrogenated oils, otherwise known as trans-fats, to their food products. The FDA plans to permit the inclusion of partially hydrogenated oils only in specific cases which have received its prior approval.

Considering the above, if the market reports of hydrogenation catalysts needs to grow and survive its crucial for the market players to develop an alternative strategy or process such as enzymatically catalyzed interesterification or randomization by chemical catalysis to change the fatty acid composition of the triglyceride substrate and hence lower the harmful effects.