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.

At the right, you can a hand holding a round glass flask. The flask contains a yellowish liquid and a brownish coarse-grained powder that has settled at the bottom.

The Max Planck-Cardiff Centre Funcat lays the foundations for the systematic development of chemical reaction accelerators


After two years of online only encounters, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2022 took place onsite again


12 Max Planck researchers win coveted ERC Advanced Grants


New method enables simple tritium labeling and could provide added value to the discovery and development of pharmaceuticals


The prizes to Klaus Hasselmann and Benjamin List will be awarded this year at the Harnack House / Livestream on 7 December from 6 p.m.

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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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Tritium 3H is a radioactive Isotope of hydrogen that serves as an ideal tracer for pharmaceutical development. Generally, tritium is introduced into small-molecule drug-like compounds by heterogeneous catalysts. However, these commonly also destroy a variety of other groups that are prevalent especially in pharmaceuticals. We have now discovered a method to perform hydrogenolysis reactions on such molecules with homogeneous catalysts, so that they can be labeled with tritium. They are compatible with other functional groups and straightforward to use. 


Ni(0)-Stilbene Complexes: A solution to more than 60 years of unstable Ni(0) precursors

2020 Dr. Josep Cornellà

Chemistry Material Sciences Solid State Research

Since 60 years Ni(COD)2 has revolutionized the field of Ni-catalysis due to its incredible chemical properties. However, its great instability when exposed to air and its temperature sensitivity required complicated techniques. Recently, at the MPI für Kohlenforschung we have developed a series of Ni(0)-stilbene complexes which are stable to air and temperature and can be manipulated in the bench-top without any special equipment. The simplicity of operation is accompanied by the great versatility of these complexes as surrogates of Ni(COD)2 in a plethora of catalytic transformations.


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 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.

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