(4eq) Heterogeneous Catalysis: Producing Energy While Minimizing Environmental Footprint

Yi, N., Tufts University

Increasing global demand for non-renewable sources of energy has resulted in higher energy prices and emissions, but positive spillover effects have also ensued such as innovation in renewable energy and novel research into the consumption of conventional energy that is more efficient and less deleterious.  Technological innovations must be sufficient in scale to supplant existing technology. This requires us to elucidate the reaction mechanism and active sites, as well as, to identify and eliminate the bottlenecks in catalytic processes.  My research explores the role of heterogeneous catalysis in the production of fuels and chemicals, while, at the same time, decreasing our carbon footprint.  I aim to integrated fundamental mechanistic studies, controllable synthesis methods, and techniques for improving practices implementation.

My Ph.D. projects investigated the efficacy and practical application of nanoscale precious metal clusters (e.g., gold and platinum) for hydrogen production through methanol and formic acid reactions, which could be applied to fuel cells.  The strategy of selecting suitable supports and promoters as ligands to synthesize atomically dispersed precious metals was systematically explored. We designed catalysts that used trace amounts of precious metals, yet still resulted in high activity, selectivity, and stability.   These catalysts were mindful of industrial economic realities, and were designed with low cost but with robust performance.  

My first postdoctoral project investigates novel approaches to control the acid strength/sites over solid acids. The primary application is to catalyze light alkane cracking at low temperature to produce value-added chemicals.  My second project explores the interaction between metal and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) through structure sensitive probe reactions.  Different approaches allow us to tune the size and shape of the metal and to control different types of functional groups on MWCNTs, which will identify the parameters that determine the products' selectivity. The significance of this research is that it could guide us to design desired materials while maximizing those promoting factors.