Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung

Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung

The Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung at Mülheim an der Ruhr is more than one hundred years old, making it one of the Max Planck Society's oldest institutes. Time and again, the Institute has been a source of major technological impetus, including the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis for the production of fuels from coal, and Ziegler catalysts for the production of the major bulk plastics. Today, the Institute's activities are centred on research into energy- and resource-saving chemical reactions, with the focus on catalysis in all of its aspects. The aim of the researchers is to develop new, tailor-made catalysts – products that accelerate chemical reactions without themselves being changed. With the aid of catalysts, natural products and medically-active substances with a complicated structure can be efficiently synthesised; similarly, biomass can be converted to fuels and key basic chemicals.


Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz 1
45470 Mülheim an der Ruhr
Phone: +49 208 306-1
Fax: +49 208 306-2989

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS on Reactive Structure Analysis for Chemical Reactions

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

New strategies for catalysts
Benjamin List receives the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his work in the field of Organocatalysis. His research group searches for new reactions and develops new concepts for metalfree catalysis. This research aims at inventing strategies for the development of “perfect chemical reactions” that combine quantitative yield and high atom economy, without requiring toxic solvents, protecting groups, heating, cooling, or inert gas atmosphere. more
Chemistry: a hammer for molecular bartering!
A safe variant of hydrocyanation gives chemists a versatile tool with a reversible function more

High Honours

December 15, 2015
Three Max Planck scientists will be awarded the German Research Foundation's (DFG) Leibniz Prize this year. more
Coffee withdrawal

Coffee withdrawal

August 13, 2014
Coffee: It leaves some people feeling fit and refreshed; in others, it makes their heart race. Scientists have developed several decaffeination processes to allow even people who react badly to caffeine to enjoy a cup of the “black brew.” Kurt Zosel from the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr came across one of these processes quite by chance in 1967. more
Patent solution in a canning jar
From shopping bags to shampoo bottles to plastic watering cans – many everyday objects both large and small might look very different if it hadn’t been for the invention of chemist and Max Planck researcher Karl Ziegler. It took the catalysts developed at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung (coal research) to pave the way for the use of plastics in everyday items. more
The team around Martin Stratmann
From among the ranks of the Scientific Members of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the Senate on Thursday elected three new scientific Vice Presidents for a six-year term of office. These Max Planck Directors are now members of the Executive Committee which advises President Martin Stratmann and lays the groundwork for the MPG’s important decisions. more
The team around Martin Stratmann
From among the ranks of the Scientific Members of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the Senate on Thursday elected three new scientific Vice Presidents for a six-year term of office. These Max Planck Directors are now members of the Executive Committee which advises President Martin Stratmann and lays the groundwork for the MPG’s important decisions. more
Ten ERC Advanced Grants for Max Planck scientists
Fifty applications for funding successful in Seventh EU Framework Programme more
The key to the treasure in wood
Using a simple, parallel approach, the components of lignin can be reworked for practical applications more

Catalysts team up with textiles

September 13, 2013
Simple textiles can be used with catalysts to enable complex chemical reactions more
Options for a new energy scenario
The regular recurrence of ‘all-time high’ oil prices is clear proof of the finite nature of fossil energy sources. more
Enzyme design with remote effects
Chemists in Mülheim devise a new way of optimising enzymes for industrial applications more
Energy-saving powder

Energy-saving powder

November 11, 2009
Max Planck chemists are using a simple method to convert methane to methanol - something that has the potential to exploit previously unused reserves of natural gas. more
Coiled Stones

Coiled Stones

June 13, 2006
Chemists direct silicon oxide into a selected hierarchical structure - a mechanism that until now had only been found in nature more
The return of a classic to fuel production
Max Planck Institute of Coal Research celebrates 80 years of Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis to make fuels out of coal more
Doctors today already frequently rely on positron emission tomography – PET for short – in cancer diagnostics. However, in order to use this method for other diseases, too, they need suitable tracer substances containing radioactive fluorine-18 – a challenge for Tobias Ritter and his team at the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr. The chemists are searching for ways to label diverse molecules with fluorine-18 and thus expand the range of possibilities for medical specialists.
The discovery that small organic molecules are excellent catalysts makes Ben List, Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, one of the pioneers of a new research field in chemistry. His life, however, has been shaped just as much by a life-changing vacation experience.
In 1925, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr discovered how to turn coal into gasoline. Today, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is experiencing a renaissance, as it is used to refine far more than just coal. The process can also be applied to turn natural gas, biomass and even household trash into fuel.
Creativity is as much in demand in research as in music. Nuno Maulide has a wealth of creativity. A chemist working at the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung (Coal Research) in Mülheim an der Ruhr, he not only develops new synthetic methods for valuable organic compounds, he also continues to impress people with his piano concerts.
Coffee: It leaves some people feeling fit and refreshed; in others, it makes their heart race. Scientists have developed several decaffeination processes to allow even people who react badly to caffeine to enjoy a cup of the “black brew.” Kurt Zosel from the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr came across one of these processes quite by chance in 1967.
Wood waste and straw contain valuable substances for the chemical industry, and these substances are what chemists from the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr and the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg want to get their hands on. The researchers are looking for ways to convert biomass into useful chemical compounds and use them as energy sources or raw materials.
Researchers are testing new storage solutions for hydrogen cars.

Towards safer chemical reactions: HCN-free hydrocyanation through shuttle catalysis

2017 Willems, Suzanne; Morandi, Bill
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

The development of safer catalytic reactions is an important goal towards a greener chemical industry. Recently, we introduced a new concept in catalysis, shuttle catalysis, which has led to the discovery of a safer hydrocyanation process that does not rely on the use of highly toxic and volatile hydrogen cyanide. This new process facilitates the interconversion of synthetically relevant nitriles and alkenes and should inspire the invention of other transfer reactions that elude the need for hazardous reagents in the laboratory.


Medical application of fundamental reaction chemistry: new methods to bring 18F into complex molecules

2017 Ritter, Tobias
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research
Fluorine can improve the properties of many molecules. But introduction of the fluorine substituent into organic molecules is hard. At the Organic chemistry Department of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung researchers use the 18F isotope of fluorine to develop better methods to make new molecules for positron-emission-tomography (PET). Medical PET imaging has great potential to aid in the development of diagnosis of various diseases. more

Spins in Short-Lived Molecules: The Unique Glimpse provided by NMR Spectroscopy into Reaction Intermediates

2016 Leutzsch, Markus; Farès, Christophe
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), this chemical analytical tool continues to find new creative applications not only as a result of instrumental advances but also owing to the inherent non-invasiveness of the technique, allowing considerable flexibility in the choice and configuration of samples. This is especially evident in the field of catalysis where modern NMR has had an important impact in revealing the progress of a catalytic reaction in subtle details, especially providing structural and dynamic information of the fleeting reaction intermediates. more

A Golden Age of homogeneous catalysis

2016 Alois, Fürstner
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research
The promise of soluble gold and platinum complexes for homogeneous catalysis has been underestimated for decades due to their "noble“ character and thus their supposed chemical lethargy. It was only after the turn of the millennium that this topic has witnessed exponential growth and evolved into a highly competitive area of research. It seems likely that recent insights into the reigning catalytic cycles and the structure of the involved reactive intermediates will foster further progress. more

This article describes computer simulations with different models to study how the environment affects properties of biomolecules, such as enzymes and other proteins. It is shown how the motion of proteins and surrounding water molecules is influenced by collective vibrations. Further, the effects of interactions between biomolecules on their stability are discussed, in particular under high concentration conditions found in cellular environments.


Tailoring enzyme specificity by computational mutagenesis

2015 Sanchez-Garcia, Elsa

Enzymes are powerful and specific biocatalysts that are inseparably linked to life. Ways to manipulate enzymatic activity and specificity as a tool to produce new therapeutic agents are much sought after in biomedical and industrial research. The molecular understanding of the events involved in enzymatic activity is often of key importance for successful enzymology experiments. The article shows how computational simulations allowed to successfully predict, which single mutation can be applied to modify the specificity of a highly selective multi-enzyme complex.


Organotextile catalysis: molecules get in touch with cloth

2014 James, Thomas; Lindner, Monika; Gombert, Sarah-Lena; List, Benjamin
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

Current research at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim has made significant advances in heterogeneous organocatalysis which has resulted in the discovery of a widely applicable method allowing the covalent immobilisation of organic catalysts on textiles. This approach has resulted in the development of nylon textiles which efficiently catalyse chemical reactions and which can be easily recycled for over 200 reaction cycles.


Insight into complex reactions – opportunities of modern ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry

2014 Schrader, Wolfgang
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

During the last three decades mass spectrometry has developed into one of the most important analytical techniques that allows following chemical reactions and transformations. Especially, modern methods with ultrahigh resolution capabilities allow the investigation of very complex systems in catalysis and energy research and give exciting insights into the different chemical steps.


Tracking catalysts: which fascinating insights does powder diffraction provide?

2013 Weidenthaler, Claudia
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

The understanding of structure-property relationships is of fundamental importance for the optimization of a nanosized solid-state catalyst. Powder diffraction enables not only the determination of crystal structures of nanomaterials but also provides access to their microstructures and allows fascinating insights how catalysts behave under reaction conditions.


Catalytic milling: A new entry point for lignocellulose biorefineries

2013 Meine, Niklas; Hilgert, Jakob; Kaldstrom, Mats; Rinaldi, Roberto; Schüth, Ferdi
Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research
Lignocellulose is an attractive feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals. Unfortunately, the disintegration of this complex biopolymer is very difficult. Acid impregnation and mechanical treatment can be combined to result in a fully water-soluble product. The lignin is easily separated from the aqueous solution. The remaining compounds can be selectively converted to monomeric sugars or sugar alcohols using different catalytic processes. Moreover, fermentation for the production of ethanol is possible as well. These findings open up new possibilites for the use of biomass. more
The preparation of chiral, enantiomerically pure substances is a crucial endeavour of chemistry and one of high value to our society. Herein is presented a new approach to asymmetric synthesis, relying on the use of aromatic compounds as feedstocks for the production of enantiomerically pure products relying on clean processes and with minimal amounts of waste. more

Gold Recycling

2012 Alcarazo, Manuel
The rapidly expanding field of gold catalysis and the growing number of research groups involved in this area clearly highlight its potential in synthetic organic chemistry. However, the continuous increase of the prize of gold as well as other noble metals during the last years makes the development of new strategies compulsory that allow for an efficient recovery and recycling of these expensive catalysts after their use. Here we show how ligands based on phosphenium and other phosphorus-centered cations can offer a potential solution to this problem. more
The article first describes the challenges in the theoretical modelling of electronically excited states and then provides a brief overview over the available computational methods. In a case study, quantum-chemical calculations and surface-hopping dynamics simulations are presented for adenine in the gas phase, in aqueous solution, and in DNA oligomers. These computations give detailed mechanistic insight into the ultrafast processes after photoexcitation and thus contribute to a better understanding of the photostability of DNA. more
Combined quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) approaches are the method of choice for mechanistic studies on enzymes. The article provides a brief overview over these computational techniques and recent methodological developments in this area. Theoretical studies on two molybdenum enzymes are presented to show how QM/MM calculations can contribute to the elucidation of enzymatic reaction mechanisms. more

Producing biofuels from wood

2010 Rinaldi, Roberto
Cellulose is a renewable and highly available feedstock. This biopolymer is typically found in wood, straw, grass, and crop residues. Its use, as raw material for biofuel production, opens the possibility for sustainable biorefinery schemes that do not compete with food supply. Here we show how the research on cellulose at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung is helping to tackle the problems facing the utilization of lignocellulosic materials for the production of biofuels. more

Catalytic processes for the sustainable utilization of renewable resources

2010 Palkovits, Regina
Chemistry Material Sciences
Diminishing fossil reservoirs and global warming make the efficient utilization of alternative feedstocks imperative. Lignocellulosic biomass is a promising feedstock, not in competition with food, and allows for CO2-neutral technologies. Its conversion via hydrogenolysis presents an interesting entry point for future biorefinery and the development of suitable catalysts is highly desirable. Alike, alternatives for commodities as terephthalic acid, important for PET production, are required. Based on sugars, furandicarboxylic acid, a sugar-based alternative to this compound, can be prepared. more
At first glance, it is surprising that iron constitutes one of the few remaining niches in the periodic table, as far as applications in homogeneous catalysis are concerned, since iron compounds are cheap, readily available, non-toxic and benign. This void is caused, to a large extent, by the lack of understanding of and control over the organometallic chemistry of this metal. Recent years, however, have seen important advances in this field, most notably in the area of cross coupling, to which the Mülheim laboratories have made substantial contributions. more
Natural Products provide constant inspiration for the development of new synthetic methods, in particular in the realm of homogeneous catalysis. At the same time, they constitute important tools for biochemical, biological and medicinal purposes as exemplified by selected projects from the laboratory of the author. more

Chiral Anions in Asymmetric Catalysis

2008 Reisinger, Corinna Marie; List, Benjamin
Organocatalysis is a new strategy for catalysis in which purely organic catalysts are employed. With numerous spectacular developments, it has won its place within the field of organic chemistry. Here we describe the development of a novel concept, namely Asymmetric Counteranion Directed Catalysis (ACDC). This new strategy has been originally developed within the area of organocatalysis but in addition has found interesting utility in transition metal catalysis. more

Phase behaviour of amino acids and the potential significance for the origin of life

2008 Klußmann, Martin
Chemistry Evolutionary Biology
For a long time chirality has fascinated chemists, together with the question how nature chose to only use one of two mirror-image forms of chiral molecules. Experiments show that phase behaviour of chiral amino acids in saturated solutions can amplify small imbalances in the amounts of both forms, until basically only one remains. The potential significance for the origin of life is discussed. more

Complex Hydrides as Hydrogen Storage Materials

2007 Schüth, Ferdi; Felderhoff, Michael; Bogdanovic, Borislov
Chemistry Material Sciences
If our energy system is transformed to a hydrogen economy, the storage of hydrogen is one of the biggest challenges. All presently available solutions are unsatisfactory with respect to a number of different points. Complex hydrides, especially sodium alanate, are in an advanced development stage as chemical storage alternative. After discovery and optimization of a catalyst, the rehydrogenation times could be reduced to only a few minutes. The concept of catalytic enhancement of the rates of de- and rehydrogenation seems to be generalizable, so that there is hope for the discovery of further technically useful complex hydrides. more

Foldamers for the Design of Organic Nanotubes and Smart Transporters

2007 Hecht, Stefan
Chemistry Material Sciences
A promising bio-inspired approach to realize functional nanometer-sized objects is based on hierarchically organized chain-like molecules – foldamers – as building blocks of defined shape and size. The synergy of covalent and non-covalent synthesis enables the preparation of functional foldamers, which can be investigated with regard to their folding behavior and structure formation. Utilizing the reversible helix-coil transition, we have recently been able to prepare organic nanotubes with controlled dimensions and addressable surface functionalities as well as photoswitchable transporters for spatially and temporally controlled release. more
For the high-throughput screening of catalysts in parallel reactors a novel gas chromatographic technique was developed at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung combining information technology and chemical analysis. Utilizing multiplexing in chromatographic separations the obtained information is maximized and the time of analysis is minimized. more

Molecular Dynamics Simulations for Reactions in Solution and in Enzymes

2006 Bühl, Michael; Thiel, Walter
Chemistry Structural Biology
Recent applications of molecular dynamics simulations are presented, which afford detailed insights into the dynamics of chemical processes. Examples comprise structure and dynamics of vanadium and uranium complexes in aqueous solution, as well as the enantioselectivity of a lipase-catalyzed saponification, optimized by directed evolution. more

Towards a lab-on-a-chip device

2005 Belder, Detlev
After tremendous success in electronics miniaturization is now a hot topic in chemistry. Current developments in microfluidics enable chemical analyses with unsurpassed speed as well as the integration of chemical synthesis and analyses on a single chip. This offers new tools not only for diagnostics and life-science but also for classical chemistry and catalyses. more
The concept of directed evolution of selective enzymes has led to new and efficient biocatalysts for application in organic synthesis, thereby opening new perspectives for White Biotechnology. more
Basic research in organometallic chemistry has led to the discovery of highly selective catalysts for alkene- and alkyne metathesis that are enabling tools for advanced organic synthesis. more
Organocatalysis is a new strategy for catalysis in which small, purely organic catalysts are employed. While many of Nature’s enzymes use a similar metal-free catalysis strategy, chemists have only recently realized the great potential of organocatalysis as a highly selective and environmentally benign method for organic synthesis. Spectacular advancements have been made in this area in the last few years and recently organocatalysis has been added to the research portfolio of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim. There, it complements existing research in the areas of biocatalysis, metal-catalysis, and heterogeneous catalysis. more
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