(56c) Transforming Biomass-Derived Oxygenates Using Carbide Catalysts | AIChE

(56c) Transforming Biomass-Derived Oxygenates Using Carbide Catalysts


Lin, Z. - Presenter, Columbia University
Chen, J. G., Columbia University
As a chemical engineer, I always aspire to apply my problem-solving skills to address challenges in our lives. In this poster, all the projects that I am actively involved in during my doctoral study are integrated to demonstrate the thought processes as well as the skills that I developed. I believe that the fundamental insights that I gained through these studies should be important for the rational design of efficient catalysts for biomass conversion and industrial catalytic processes in general. The methodology and problem-solving skills used in the catalyst discovery processes can also be applied to relevant fields of chemical engineering. For presentation purposes, this poster presentation will be divided into two parts: the discussion of research results and the skills learned behind the results.

First of all, the motivation and the results of my research are discussed. My research is focused on the upgrading of biomass, which has been considered as a promising approach to reduce our current reliance on fossil fuels. Biomass is renewable and can be converted into value-added fuels and chemicals, and therefore help to address the current energy and environmental issues. Among the various technologies developed for upgrading biomass, the low temperature catalytic conversion of lignocellulosic biomass and the biodiesel production are particularly promising. During the low temperature catalytic conversion, lignocellulosic biomass can be converted into a platform chemical, furfural, which is further upgraded into fuel-additives or other valuable chemicals.1 Molybdenum carbide (Mo2C) catalysts have been shown to be highly active and selective in the conversion of furfural but suffers from quick deactivation. In the biodiesel production process, glycerol is generated as a major by-product. Mo2C can potentially be applied for the upgrading of glycerol via the hydrodeoxygenation reaction, but the issue of unselective C-O bond scission should be addressed. In this work, we have identified a class of metal-modified molybdenum carbide catalysts to solve the problems in these two processes. With the decoration of cobalt, the stability of Mo2C is significantly enhanced.2 When modified by different coverages of copper, Mo2C can selectively cleave certain C-O bond, leaving others intact.3 The concept and feasibility of this work are illustrated using combined theoretical calculations and experimental evaluations over model surfaces and industrial-relevant powder catalysts, which should provide insights into the rational design of efficient carbide-based catalysts for the valorization of biomass-derived oxygenates.

Overall the course of my Ph.D. research, I have developed many experimental and analytical skills, including the operation and tuning of mass spectrometer (MS), high-resolution electron energy loss spectrometer (HREELS), the synthesis and characterization of high surface area catalysts, calculation of reaction energetics using density functional theory (DFT), data analysis with Python, etc. The combination of these techniques allows me to understand the properties of catalysts thoroughly and guide me in catalyst design. I have also spent significant amount of time in maintaining, repairing and upgrading all the equipment in our ultra-high vacuum chambers. These experiences allow me to understand the fundamental principles of the instruments, which help to enhance the accuracy of data measurements and is beneficial to troubleshooting when problems arise. It will also be helpful when I need to establish new labs or install new facilities. In addition to the technical skills, I also developed many interpersonal skills over the years. Within the context of research, I have trained junior students in our lab, and collaborate with research groups in multiple universities and national laboratories to secure funding and publish papers together.123 Outside of research, I have been the teaching assistant for the Engineering Separation Processes and Chemical Engineering Laboratory courses, which help me learn how to tailor the teaching contents according to students’ need and effectively delivery the teaching. My experience as the student president of the Columbia Electrochemical Energy Center and student representative of the Catalysis Club of Metropolitan New York has taught me how to lead and collaborate with our team members to ensure the smooth operation of the organization and to better engage with students and professional members.

Overall, throughout my doctoral study, I have established solid technical and interpersonal skills that can be readily applied to my future position. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss what I can add to and how I can grow with your company.


1 Z. Lin, R. Chen, Z. Qu and J. G. Chen, Green Chem., 2018, 20, 2679–2696.

2 Z. Lin, W. Wan, S. Yao and J. G. Chen, Appl. Catal. B Environ., 2018, 233, 160–166.

3 W. Wan, S. C. Ammal, Z. Lin, K.-E. You, A. Heyden and J. G. Chen, Nat. Commun., 2018, 9, 4612.