The structural and functional roles of lanthana in unsupported iron-based catalysts for the high-temperature water-gas shift reaction and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis were investigated. The performance of the catalysts with varying lanthana contents was based on their activity, selectivity, and stability. With regard to the former reaction, extent of reduction of the iron in Fe2O3/Cr2O3/CuO/La2O3 water-gas shift catalysts is a key parameter that was characterized using UV-visible spectroscopy. Minor addition of lanthana (<0.5 wt%) produces more active and stable catalysts apparently because it stabilizes the iron-chromium spinel, increases the surface area of the reduced catalysts, enhances the reduction of hematite to the magnetite active phase, and facilitates the adsorption of CO on the surface of the catalyst modeled by an adsorptive Langmuir-Hinshelwood mechanism. Statistical 95% confidence contour plots of the adsorption equilibrium constants show that water adsorbs more strongly than CO, which inhibits the reaction rate. A calibration curve that correlates the oxidation state of surface iron domains to normalized absorbance of visible light was successfully generated and applied to the water-gas shift catalysts. UV-visible studies indicated higher extent of reduction for surface Fe domains for the catalysts promoted with 1 wt% of lanthana and showed potential to be a more convenient technique for surface chemistry studies than X-ray absorption near edge spectroscopy (XANES). Lanthana addition to iron-based Fischer-Tropsch catalysts enhances the olefin-to-paraffin ratio, but decreases their activity, stability, and selectivity to liquid hydrocarbons. Adding lanthana at the expense of potassium reduces the water-gas shift selectivity and enhances the activity and stability of the catalysts. Finally, a model that simulates heat and mass transfer limitations on the particle scale for the Fischer-Tropsch reaction applicable at lab-scale suggests optimal operating and design conditions of 256°C, 30 bar, and 80 mirons are recommended for higher selectivity to liquid hydrocarbons. The model considers pressure drop, deactivation, pore diffusion, film heat transfer, and internal heat transfer when solving for the optimal conditions, and maps them as functions of design variables. This model can be up-scaled to provide guidance for optimal design of commercial-size reactors.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Chemical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





iron catalysts, lanthana, UV-visible spectroscopy, water-gas shift, Fischer-Tropsch