Deutsche Version  ACT
Physical Storage
Synthesis 3.4.2017

Porphyrin-based catalytic centre
© Bröhring / TU Braunschweig

Synthesising methane cost-effectively

In the Katmethan project scientists want to find new peptide-based

catalysts for low-cost synthesis of methane. The chances of success are

uncertain due to lack of data. The efficiency depends primarily on the

achievable efficiency of the catalytic reaction, the catalyst cost per

unit and the stability of the catalysts.

Project status Near completion
Project duration September 2014 until August 2017

Some 100 years ago Fritz Haber developed at the KIT a catalyst that allowed him to fix the nitrogen from atmosphere, which was of vital importance to feed the 7 Billion people that populate the world today. Today, of similar importance would be a catalyst that efficiently, and decentralized transforms electrical energy into chemical energy and vice versa. Then, a houses heating system could also produce some elctricity, and, more important fluctuating regenerative energy could be used in a much more reliable way.

  • Peptide spot with built-in catalytic centre © KIT
  • Combinatorial synthesis of a peptide array © KIT
  • Chip-printer © KIT
  • Peptide array synthesized by laser-induced melting © KIT
  • Elektron microscopy showing one processing step of the screening chip © IMS Stuttgart
  • Porphyrin-based catalytic centre © Bröhring / TU Braunschweig

Up to now, nanoparticle based catalysts are manufactured as Fritz Haber did some 100 years ago: Different ingredients are mixed, then processed (e.g. by sintering), and, finally, a few thousand potential catalysts are screened for catalytic activity. We want to develop a method that allows us to screen many more potential catalysts for  function. Another difference is in the catalysts itself: Instead of using metallic or ceramic nanoparticles, we will screen many small proteins (= peptides) with built in catalytic centres for catalytic activity. The reason is simple: enzymes are known for their trait to efficiently use complex substrates, e.g. methane.

Establishing a basis for peptide-based catalysts

In the Katmethan project the researchers want to develop a method that allows to screen for novel peptide-based catalysts up to the proof-of-principle level. As a long term goal this method should allow us to find a way to efficiently and cost effective transform the energy stored within methane into electricity and vice versa. 

The researchers want to combine three different ambitious technology developments: (1) The synthesis of very high density peptide arrays, (2) organic synthesis of artificial catalytic centres that should be compüatible with peptide synthesis, and (3) a fast, sensitive, and facile screening system that should allow us to screen for peptide-based catalysts.

The economic viability of the risky Katmethan project depends on the energy efficiency of eventually found catalysts, the costs per unit, and the durability. No data is available on that. Therefore, the primary goal is to show the proof of principle.

The project started in september 2014 - it is in ist initial phase. First goals will be the chemical synthesis of artificial building blocks for peptide synthesis that could serve as catalytic centres, the manufacturing of very high density peptide arrays (10.000 peptides per cm(+2)) in good quality, and the design and manufacturing of a screening chip that for each pixel elctrode sensitivel measures the transfer of electrons.


Sub-project a: KIT will use its newly developped method to synthesize 10.000 peptides per cm(+2). Next, these peptides will be severed from their support and transferred to a recipiant surface that is covered with gold. In the end this recipient surface will be the screening chip from sub-project b.

Sub-project b: In order to measure the activity of many peptidebased electrodes in parallel, IMS will develop and fabricate a dedicated CMOS based screening chip with 10,000 indiviaully addressable electrodes. The technical challenges for this chip are to fast and precisely measure the small (pA) currents of all the electrodes and to be inert with respect to process chemicals and by-products. The screening chip is based on a conventional CMOS process, where IMS deposites chemically inert isolator layers and noble metal electrodes.

Sub-project c: The goal of subproject c is the development of suitable redox catalysts for individual steps in the transformation of energy-storing molecules such as methane. These biomimetic compounds should take over the tasks of catalytic centers of the system developed by the consortium. The catalyst’s nature will be structurally related to natural metal complexes, which are found in energy-converting enzymes. In addition to catalytic efficiency, the basic condition that these metal catalysts can be installed reliably and modular in the entire screening system is of vital importance.

Sub-project d: Peptides with catalytic activity should induce a pixel electrode specific current. One goal of sub-project d is to setup such a measuring system. The next goal would be to screen for catalysts that use methane or methanole as a substrate.

Supported by: The Federal Government on the basis of a decision by the German Bundestag


no news in this list.


  • Prof. Frank Breitling
    Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT); Institut für Mikrostrukturtechnik (IMT) - Fachbereich FE2-PA
Other Addresses


Research funding

The information system EnArgus provides information on research funding, including on this project (German only).