Fischer-Tropsch synthesis

What is Fischer-Tropsch synthesis?

The Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, also known as Fischer-Tropsch technology or Fischer-Tropsch process, was first reported in 1923 by Fischer and Tropsch at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany.

It involves the conversion of synthesis gas, which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, into a mixture of high-value hydrocarbons and their derivatives, including aliphatic alcohols, olefins, aldehydes, and ketones, as well as some by-products such as water H2O and carbon dioxide CO2.

Fischer-Tropsch synthesis - general reaction scheme - Fischer-Tropsch technology - Fischer-Tropsch process
Fischer-Tropsch synthesis

A solid supported metal catalyst, such as Ru/SiO2, Co/Nb2O5, Co/TiO2, Co/Al2O3, Co/SiO2, Co-CeO2/SiO2, and Fe/SiO2, is used to catalyze the reaction at a temperature range of 200-350 ºC and a pressure of 15-40 bar. Although ruthenium, cobalt, and iron are metals with catalytic activity for this reaction, cobalt and iron are the most commonly used due to the high cost of ruthenium. Cobalt-based catalysts are particularly stable and allow high syn-gas conversions, producing heavy wax (approximately C100) and can be used up to 5 years.

The Fischer-Tropsch synthesis has practical applications in the fuel industry, producing odorless, colorless, clean diesel fuel with low levels of sulfur and other impurities, and may be a solution to the energy crisis after crude oil resources have been exhausted, as it can use enriched coal and sustainable biomass as starting materials.


Fischer, F. and Tropsch, H. (1923), Über die Synthese höherer Glieder der aliphatischen Reihe aus Kohlenoxyd. [On the synthesis of higher members of the aliphatic series from carbon oxide] Ber. dtsch. Chem. Ges. A/B, 56: 2428-2443.