Biocatalysts & Biobased Products

H2 is produced industrially via catalytic steam reforming of nonrenewable methane at temperatures of 400-1000 °C and at steam partial pressures near 30 bar. Hydrogen production from renewable biomass is challenging due to sluggish catalytic rates in water (the most common biomass contaminant), and catalyst deactivation. Furthermore, H2 transportation and storage present safety issues that could be addressed using a carrier which releases H2 on demand, such as biomass-derived methanol, ethanol, or formic acid, all of which are compatible with direct alcohol fuel cell technologies. The state-of-the-art for sustainable, environmentally benign methanol and ethanol production typically employs biomass (e.g., cellulose) fermentation to “bioalcohols” having ~10% alcohol in aqueous solution.

In this report we describe a heterogeneous catalytic system for base- and additive-free methanol and ethanol reforming that operates under mild conditions (40 - 90 °C and 1 atm) with an inexpensive supported Mo catalyst that is air- and moisture- stable. Additionally, this system is active for aqueous alcohols, exhibits no deactivation over days under these conditions, and is selective towards valuable aldehydes with negligible production of greenhouse gases or fuel cell poisons (CO2 or CO), conforming to requirements for both commodity formaldehyde production and direct alcohol fuel cell applications.

Research Interests:

My primary research goals are to obtain multi-scale control of catalyst/support architectures for difficult reactions in energy research while providing a multidisciplinary approach for training students. My research aims include the development and integration of tandem/bifunctional catalyst systems for process intensification, the synthesis and deposition of organometallic precursors onto a range of surfaces to study fundamental support effects, and the controlled synthesis and preparation of metal phosphides, nitrides, and sulfides for catalysis. Concurrent work will also focus on the development of new designer supports and materials using renewables. The fundamental question my research plans to answer is: through molecular engineering of homo- and heterogeneous catalysts, can we obtain knowledge commensurate with that of homogeneous processes? Can we then use that knowledge to develop superior catalysts which promote historically challenging transformations? This interdisciplinary program will cover areas in chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials research, providing multiple avenues for cross department collaborations and teaching.

Teaching Interests:

My teaching interests include energy and catalysis, responsible research conduct, kinetics, and thermodynamics. I would also like to develop a course on the boundaries of both chemistry and engineering for freshman undergraduates. I am a graduate course guest lecturer (Responsible Conduct of Research) in the Department of Material Science and Engineering at Northwestern and have also taken 2 faculty teaching workshops on “Infusing Critical Thinking into Your Course Design” and “Developing Effective Learning Objectives” through Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching which has made me aware of these critical issues common in post-graduate teaching.