Our Legacy and Evolution

The Catalysis Institute at the University of Cape Town earned its accreditation as a Research Institute following a comprehensive review by the University Research Committee in 2012. Our catalysis research legacy dates back to 1980, initiated by Professor Cyril O’Connor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. We awarded our first MSc and PhD degrees in this field in 1982 and 1984, respectively.

From 1980 to 1990, our research primarily focused on heterogeneous olefin oligomerization, addressing the country's demand for synthetic middle-distillate fuels. With the establishment of the Catalysis Research Unit in 1990, our research agenda expanded to include oxidation, methanol-to-olefins, methane conversion, and the synthesis and modification of catalytic materials. Entering its third decade, the Unit aimed to develop substantial industry-university research programs, significantly contributing to technology advancements in South Africa.

National Research Centers and Collaborations

Since the early 2000s, the Institute has hosted two major national research centers. The DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Catalysis (c*change) operated from 2004 to 2024, focusing on basic science and engineering, while the National Hydrogen Catalysis Competence Centre (HySA/Catalysis), established in 2007, focuses on applied science and development. Both centers have fostered extensive industrial collaborations, bridging the gap between basic research and practical applications.

Research Chairs and Scientific Focus

Enhancing our scientific capacity, the Institute is home to three South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) Chairs in Nanomaterials for Catalysis, Reaction Engineering, and Sustainable Catalysis. These Chairs bring focused expertise in key areas of heterogeneous catalysis. Additionally, in 2021, one of our members was awarded an A-rating by the National Research Foundation.

Research Areas and Team

Today, the Institute's primary research areas include syngas conversion and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, CO2 activation and utilization, hydroprocessing, fuel-to-hydrogen conversion, and hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers. Our team comprises approximately 20 full-time staff, 10 to 15 postdoctoral fellows, and around 50 postgraduate students.

Industry Impact and Spin-Out Companies

Our research has led to the creation of four UCT spin-out companies. HyPlat (Pty) Ltd specializes in fuel cell and electrolyser membrane-electrode assemblies, Cape Catalytix (Pty) Ltd focuses on laboratory and scientific equipment, Hydrogen Energy Applications (Pty) Ltd develops LPG-to-electricity technology, and C STAR Holdings (Pty) Ltd innovates Power to X technologies. These companies represent the Institute's commitment to translating research into practical solutions, making a tangible impact on society.