Leon Lefferts (1960) was born in Enschede and visited the Jacobus College, receiving the Atheneum diploma in 1978. He was trained as a chemical engineer at the University of Twente (1983) and received his PhD in 1987 also at the University of Twente. He continued to specialize on heterogeneous catalysis and joined the DSM Research laboratories (1987-1999), working on catalyst characterization, hydrogenation, slurry phase catalysis, carbon supported metals and kinetics. He acted as research scientist, project leader as well as senior scientist. In this 12 years period the emphasis on output was clearly on proprietary knowledge rather than on publications. He founded Eurokin in 1999, a consortium of companies and universities addressing challenges in the field of kinetics, that is successfully operating since then.
He was appointed full professor “Catalytic Processes and Materials” (CPM) at the University of Twente in 1999. He has been visiting professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2005-2007. He was appointed as Finnish Distinguished Professor in 2011-2015, and continued as a visiting professor at Aalto University in Helsinki till 2019. He acted as director of the research institute IMPACT (2010-2011) and the Green Energy Initiative (2013-2015) within the University of Twente. He supervised 32 PhD students, of which 25 graduated.
His research interests include biofeed conversion, including catalytic upgrading of flash pyrolysis oil as well as APR (Aqueous Phase Reforming). A second theme is heterogeneous catalysts in liquid phase, motivated on both technological challenges, striving for minimization of concentration gradient in porous catalyst particles, as well as fundamental challenges, developing new experimental techniques for studying the catalyst surface in contact with liquid reactant mixtures and solutions. A recnt new topic in the filed is the influence of formation of bubbles on transport in catalyst particles. The third theme is activation of stable molecules. This work is exploring breakthrough technologies for activation of alkanes, CO2, CH4 and H2O, e.g. via using soft oxidants, non-redox catalysts at high temperatures, electrical fields or plasma-catalysis. Furthermore, the use of water as a soft oxidant is of special interest and the role of oxide materials, e.g. zirconia and ceria, for activation of water and CO2 is subject of investigations.
Aalto University School of Chemical Engineering
Scientific Advisory Board
The first theme is heterogeneous catalysts in liquid phase, motivated on both technological challenges, striving for minimization of concentration gradient in porous catalyst particles, as well as fundamental challenges, developing new experimental techniques for studying the catalyst surface in contact with liquid reactant mixtures and solutions. Most important results include the development of a new class of micro-structured catalyst supports (hairy foams) and more recently structured membrane contactor reactors based on CNFs, as well as pushing the borders of application of in-situ IR spectroscopy in aqueous phase with dedicated cells that enable Attenuated-Total-Reflection IR spectroscopy, recently even at elevated temperatures and pressures e.g. for aqueous phase reforming. The group is in the forefront of this technology and our work was highlighted in Chem. Soc. Rev.. Most of the work done so far was using hydrogenation of nitrate, nitrite and bromate as model reactions, that are also societal relevant in the realm of purification of drinking-water.
Second theme is activation of stable molecules, including selective oxidation. This work is exploring breakthrough technologies for activation of alkanes, e.g. via using soft oxidants, non-redox catalysts at high temperatures, electrical fields or plasma-catalysis. A cluster of three recent projects in close cooperation with DIFFER (FOM institute on energy, Prof. van de Sanden c.s.)) is aiming at combining plasma technology with heterogeneous catalysis, implying the need to build mutual understanding and cooperation with the plasma-physicists community. Joint workshops have been organized on this emerging theme, interacting with University of Antwerp (Prof. Bogaerts, dr. Meynen, TUe (Prof. Hessel) and in future also DIFFER will be involved. Furthermore, the use of water as a soft oxidant is of special interest and the role of oxide materials for activation of water is subject of investigations. The work on zirconia and ceria, both at Twente and at Aalto, is highly appreciated by the field, is frequently cited, and Leon delivered invited lectures on the subject. This work relevant is for steam reforming of hydrocarbons and oxygenates, as well as for water-gas-shift.
Finaly, catalytic upgrading of biomass, e.g. upgrading of flash-pyrolysis oil, both during flash-pyrolysis as well as down-stream has been an active research theme for quite some time. This direction was highly inspired on the early activities at University of Twente of prof. Wim van Swaaij, who explored the technology of flash pyrolysis at an early stage. The group has been a trendsetter in this field and early work on e.g. reforming of acetic-acid is an over-200 times cited research (non-review) paper. Also aqueous phase reforming of oxygenates and carbohydrates is studied in a number of projects. The most important result, next to a significant number of papers, is the development of a basic heterogeneous catalyst improving the quality of flash-pyrolysis oil, based on which KiOR decided to develop this technology to demonstration level.
UT Research Information System
Leon teaches, together with several collegues, the Kinetics and Catalysis course (BSc Chemical Science Engineering) as well as the Advanced Catalysis course and the Capita Selecta Course on Catalysis (MSc, Chemical Engineering).
Of course, guidance of final research assignment on BSc and MSc level is also offered.