We are pleased to welcome Dr. Enrique Iglesia, Theodore Vermeulen Chair in Chemical Engineering, University of California at Berkeley and Faculty Senior Scientist, E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as the speaker for the Monday Plenary Lecture!
The Chemistry and Engineering of C1 Molecules: Methane Conversion and Beyond
The recurring interest in advantaged feedstocks as precursors to chemicals and fuels brings us today, once again, to scientific and engineering matters pertaining to the conversion of molecules without C-C bonds, such as methane, methanol, and dimethyl ether, and other small unreactive components in natural gas. Such C1 molecules, especially methane, pose formidable thermodynamic and kinetic challenges that bring significant complexity and costs into the practice of their chemical transformations. These challenges, along with those inherent in preserving C-C bonds, are also evident in the activation of C-H bonds in small alkanes, a chemical event required for their conversion and functionalization. This lecture attempts to gather some unifying concepts and, in doing so, seeks to chart feasible paths between feedstocks and specific target products in order to guide our search for the most attractive conversion strategies. These underlying concepts include: (i) the ubiquitous thermodynamic constraints and the essential limitations of catalysis in circumventing them; (ii) the pre-eminence of process simplicity and inexpensive oxidants over the allure and glamour of more direct conversions; (iii) the enduring fundamental principles of kinetic and thermodynamic protection and how to best implement them in engineering practice (iv) the coupling of separations with catalytic reactions, of multiple catalytic functions in tandem sequences, and of endothermic and exothermic transformations either at the molecular scale or at least within thermal conduction distances; (v) the prevalence of kinetic bottlenecks in forming the first C-C bond from C1 molecules and protecting them in larger alkanes; (vi) the counterintuitive benefits of very reactive hydrogen abstractors and of high temperatures in disfavoring the activation of weaker C-H bonds; and (vii) the emergence of C2 conversion platforms, as the limits of C1 chemistries are circumvented (or accepted) and as condensate streams from shale gas or ethanol feedstocks from biogenic origins emerge as advantaged feedstocks. The conclusions garnered through chemistry and engineering concepts along this journey are sobering, as the magnitude of the challenges seems to warrant; they are essential, however, in guiding our search for opportunities.
See the full list of plenary speakers here.