Catalysts get chemical reactions moving. The Chinese ideogram for catalyst means “marriage broker”. These marriage brokers reduce the energy required to kick off almost every chemical transformation. Without them, some chemical transformations would simply be impossible. There are many different areas of application. Catalysts help to reduce harmful emissions in automotive exhaust gases, extract base substances for medicine, or find new value chains to use alternative resource materials instead of crude oil. They contribute to saving energy, using fossil raw materials more effectively – more diesel per barrel – or tapping new energy sources. They also make an important contribution to climate protection.
The big question in catalyst research is: How do I find the right catalyst – quickly and efficiently – to optimally support a chemical reaction? This challenge was the foundation on which hte was built. The team of researchers and founders at hte was searching for a way to test the suitability of a variety of different substances as catalysts at the same time – and thus accurately identify the most effective reaction accelerator.
The company’s actual birth location was the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, where Professor Ferdi Schüth, one of the seven founders, has been actively involved in R&D programs within the field of heterogeneous catalysis. He identified very early on the potential to make industrial research and development in the area of heterogeneous catalysis more efficient using high throughput methods. His idea was to develop technologies for accelerating synthesis, screening, and evaluation of catalysts using combinatorial methods. Ferdi Schüth convinced several colleagues of his idea to introduce high throughput experimentation into catalyst development.
Just a few months later, the team – including Armin Brenner, Stephan A. Schunk, and Wolfram Stichert – had built a prototype of a parallel reactor and validated the technology. The data quality was excellent and the potential to accelerate catalytic experiments by a factor of 50-100 was established. The only thing missing was proof of its economic and industrial benefit. The group decided to contact the R&D department for catalysts at BASF Aktiengesellschaft with the plan to set up a joint research and development project.
BASF had already worked actively on evaluating the potential of combinatorial methods for a broad range of R&D applications in catalysis. From then on, Professor Schüth's group was involved in the discussion on further evaluating the potential of this novel technology and a possible research assignment.
At this time Dirk Demuth joined Professor Schüth's team. First plans for founding a company took shape. The sixth member to join the team was Professor John M. Newsam in mid-1998. At the end of that year, the business plan for hte was completed and Wolfgang Strehlau became the seventh founding member. hte – the high throughput experimentation company was born on March 26, 1999.
hte began its operation in June 1999. One month later the first industrial research project began: BASF commissioned hte to establish suitable processes for accelerating the development of new catalysts.
In April 2000, hte founded hte North America with leadership of John M. Newsam. The primary technological focus was molecular catalysis. Two years later, all catalysis programs were relocated to Heidelberg, Germany. hte North America was hived off as a new, independent company called fqubed Inc. and sold to the pharmaceutical company Nuvo Research Inc. in 2005.
On the left: Armin Brenner, Wolfgang Strehlau, Stephan A. Schunk, Wolfram Stichert, Dirk Demuth
On the right: Ferdi Schüth, John M. Newsam
In 1999, it was a start-up with an unusual idea – today it has over 300 employees and is global market leader in the field of high throughput catalysis research. hte technologies have now become benchmarks and are routinely used in many companies within the chemical, petrochemical, and oil industries.
Following years of development, it succeeded in breaking onto the market with the new technology in 2004 to 2006. In addition to its first customers BASF and Chevron, hte succeeded in winning further important partners with Shell, BP, and Albemarle. This development phase reached its peak in 2008 with the majority acquisition by BASF, which had held a smaller stake in the company since 2003. The takeover involved no changes to hte's business model of offering technologies and services on the worldwide market.
The size and stability of BASF were a huge advantage in the financial crisis of 2009/2010 – work on the technology platform was able to continue during this period and hte participated fully in the economic upturn that followed in 2011. Since then, hte has held onto its leadership of the market, continuously expanding upon it. Today, many of the major global players in the fields of oil & gas, chemicals, and refining place their trust in the efficiency and high quality of hte's catalyst testing methods.