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.

Nanoceramics from the ball mill

Nanometer-sized corundum particles for automotive catalysts and particularly stable ceramics can now be produced amazingly easily

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.

Chemistry: a hammer for molecular bartering!

A safe variant of hydrocyanation gives chemists a versatile tool with a reversible function


High Honours

December 15, 2015

Three Max Planck scientists will be awarded the German Research Foundation's (DFG) Leibniz Prize this year.

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.


Second-generation biofuels could solve the food versus fuel conflict because the energy crops involved do not need to be cultivated on arable land specifically reserved for them, which would then no longer be available for food production. Researchers around the world, including Ferdi Schüth, Director at the Max Planck Institute für Kohlenforschung, and Walter Leitner, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion, are working on the production of both economically viable and low-emission biofuels.

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.

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Quantifying London dispersion – novel computational methods allow to harness the power of van der Waals interactions for chemical applications

2019 Giovanni Bistoni und Alexander A. Auer

Chemistry Computer Science Material Sciences Solid State Research

Scientists at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung have developed new computational approaches to quantify and analyze accurately van der Waals interactions. In a series of studies they demonstrated how important understanding the fine details of intermolecular interactions is for the creation of complex structures and the design of efficient reaction paths. This opens new possibilities for catalysis, biochemistry and materials science.


High-performance organocatalysts: catalysis on a ppb-level

2018 Lindner, Dr. Monika; Bae, Dr. Han Yong; List, Prof. Dr. Benjamin

Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

Current research at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim has made substantial advances in organocatalysis and chemical synthesis which has resulted in the discovery of novel, surprisingly active catalysts. They catalyse chemical reactions very efficiently in extremely low catalyst loadings at ppm and even ppb level.


Solid catalyst design assisted by nanoscale 3D imaging opens new avenues for fuel production from unconventional feedstocks

2017 Duyckaerts, Nicolas; Jeske, Kai; Schüth, Ferdi; Prieto, Gonzalo*

Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

An almost 100 year old breakthrough discovery of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung gains of importance due to new catalyst design with assistance of nanoscale 3D imaging methods and an innovative tandem-catalysis-process. The Fischer-Tropsch reaction is more relevant than ever as it enables the production of high-quality liquid hydrocarbon fuels from widely available or renewable carbon feedstocks including unconventional sources or biomass.


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

2016 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

2016 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.

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