(6bl) Combining Heterogenous Catalysis and Surface Science. Green Processes and Energy Applications

Martin Alonso, D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Research Interests:

My goal as a researcher is to combine heterogenous catalysis and surface science with process intensification to advance fundamental knowledge towards the production of chemicals and fuels, both crucial for our society. I believe that combining experimental results with in situ spectroscopic measurements, and rigorous reaction kinetics analysis will provide fundamental information about catalyst performance and reaction pathways to develop the new chemical processes of the future.

My PhD research focused on the production of biodiesel. The goal was to replace homogenous catalysts (NaOH) by more sustainable heterogeneous catalysts. During this period, I was able to learn and become familiarized with the basic and fundamental tools utilized in the field of catalysis (catalyst preparation and characterization). This work provided me with the background necessary for my next stage as a Postdoctoral researcher at UW-Madison under the supervision of Prof. Dumesic.

During my stay in Prof. Dumesic’s group I combined heterogeneous catalysis and process intensification to develop new processes to produce renewable chemicals and fuels. Specially successful was the project to convert gamma-valerolactone (GVL), a biomass derived building block, into butene and high molecular weight olefins to be used as biofuel, which was published in Science and the beginning of a successful journey working with GVL. In the next years, I discovered that GVL can not only be used as platform molecule, but it also can be used as a solvent to improve many chemical reactions. In collaboration with other PhD students, within and outside the group, we demonstrated that GVL can be used as a solvent to produce key platform molecules, such as fermentable sugars, furfural, HMF and levulinic acid with our research being published in Science, Energy and Environmental Science, Angewandte Chemie International Edition and Green Chemistry.

The success of the work led to the publication of 5 patents that were licensed by the start-up company, Glucan Biorenewables LLC, which hired me to commercialize the technology. In the past 5 years, I have divided my research efforts between my work at UW-Madison with Prof. Dumesic and my activities at Glucan Biorenewables LLC as Director of R&D. Working for a company gave me a new perspective for my research. Not only we need to understand the fundamentals of the processes and provide innovative solutions, but these solutions need to make sense economically.

Teaching Interests:

My goal when teaching and mentoring is to create an innovative thinking environment where the students have confidence to develop and to apply their rational and critical thinking skills in problem solving tasks. I believe that to learn, the student needs to be involved in the class and have an active participation. Nowadays, students are capable to access knowledge by themselves (i.e. internet tutorials, books, youtube videos…) for that reason my classes will focus on demonstrating and teaching how to apply the knowledge acquired to solve chemical engineering problems using a combination of fundamental and practical skill. As mentor of undergraduate and graduate students, lab supervisor and guest lecturer, I understand that a new successful teacher listen and learn from his students. I plan to implement class discussions about the problems solved, so the students can articulate their doubts and suggestions and provide feedback about the teaching methods they find more efficient, so I can improve my skills.


My background is in the areas of catalysis, kinetics and process design, and I would enjoy teaching courses in those areas, such as, reaction kinetics and reactor design, introduction to chemical process, and mass and energy balances. At the graduate level, I would like to teach advanced courses focused on heterogeneous catalysis and analytical techniques applied to green processes. Two courses that I want to develop are “Production of chemicals from alternative sources” and “Renewable energies”. The first course will focus on chemical processes to produce renewable chemicals.


Obtaining funding from Government agencies has been part of my successful activities over the last few years with several proposal funded. This responsibility will also be critical as a Faculty. NSF and DOE are the main funding agencies I will target to fund my research. By my previous interactions with these agencies I have realized that collaboration with other professors and other Universities will be critical to obtain funding for pioneering projects. I would also like to engage companies in research projects. Funding with companies will not only provide additional money for the research, but also a valuable interaction between the students and the companies so they are better prepared for their future work.

Successful proposals as Principal Investigator.

  1. NSF SBIR Phase I: Green Solvent-Enabled Synthesis of Biobased Furans (ref. 1315356). National Science Foundation (USA). July 2013-December 2013. $150,000. Principal Investigator
  2. NSF Phase IB: Green Solvent-Enabled Synthesis of Biobased Furans (ref. 1406606) National Science Foundation (USA). January 2014-June 2014. $29,999. Principal Investigator
  3. NSF SBIR Phase I: SBIR Phase I: Catalytic Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass into Glucose using Green Solvents (ref. 1519869). National Science Foundation (USA). July 2015-December 2015. $150,000. Principal Investigator
  4. NSF Phase IB: SBIR Phase IB: Catalytic Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass into Glucose using Green Solvents (ref. 1602713). National Science Foundation (USA). January 2016-July 2015. $30,000. Principal Investigator
  5. SBIR Advance. Matching Grant. Center for Technology Commercialization. UW-Extension. October 2015-September 2016. $75,000. Principal Investigator
  6. NSF SBIR Phase II: SBIR Phase II: Catalytic Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass into Furfural and Dissolving Pulp using Green Solvents (ref. 1632394). National Science Foundation (USA). September 2016-August 2018. $750,000. Principal Investigator
  7. SBIR Advance. Matching Grant. Center for Technology Commercialization. UW-Extension. October 2015-September 2016. $75,000. Principal Investigator
  8. DOE SBIR/STTR: High Purity Cellulose for Low-cost Nanocellulose and Biofuels Production (ref. DE-SC0017939). Department of Energy (USA). June 2017-January 2018 $150,000. Principal Investigator
  9. BETO-DOE: Catalytic Processes for the Production of Alpha Omega Diols from Lignocellulosic Biomass Phase I (ref: DE-EE0006878). Principal award to UW-Madison (Prof. G. Huber). February 2015- January 2017. $2,957,576. Sub-award Principal Investigator ($125,000)

Selected publications (total 52):


  1. M. Alonso et al., “Increasing the revenue from lignocellulosic biomass: Maximizing feedstock utilization,” Science Advances., vol. 3, no. 5, p. e1603301, May 2017.
  2. Q. Bond, D. M. Alonso, D. Wang, R. M. West, J. A. Dumesic, "Integrated Catalytic Conversion of gamma-Valerolactone to Liquid Alkenes for Transportation Fuels", Science, 2010, 327, 1110-1114.
  3. S Luterbacher, Jacqueline M Rand, D. M. Alonso, J. Han, J T.Youngquist, C.T Maravelias, B.F. Pfleger, J.A Dumesic, “Nonenzymatic Sugar Production from Biomass Using Biomass-Derived γ-Valerolactone,” Science 2014, 343, 6168, 277-280
  4. M. Alonso, J. Q. Bond, J. A. Dumesic, "Catalytic conversion of biomass to biofuels", Green Chemistry, 2010, 12, 1493-1513.
  5. M. Alonso, S.G. Wettstein, J.A. Dumesic Bimetallic catalysts for upgrading od biomass to fuels and chemicals, Chemical. Society. Reviews., 2012, 41, 8075-8098
  6. M. Alonso, S. G. Wettstein, M. A. Mellmer, E. I. Gurbuz and J. A. Dumesic, “Integrated conversion of hemicellulose and cellulose from lignocellulosic biomass” Energy & Environmental Science, 2013, 6 (1), 76-80