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
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.

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

2018 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

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
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