Valorization of Natural Gas and Biomass-Derived Compounds via Zeolite Catalysis

Event Date: September 13, 2016
Speaker: Dr. Raul Lobo
Speaker Affiliation: University of Delaware
Time: 3:00-4:15
Location: FRNY G140
Priority: No
School or Program: Chemical Engineering
College Calendar: Show

Abstract:  My research group is interested in developing and understanding catalysis systems to enable the transformation abundant, inexpensive and—when possible—renewable carbon sources into feedstocks for the chemical industry. We combine expertise in materials synthesis, catalysis and kinetics, and reaction engineering to develop novel catalysts and catalytic processes that produce valuable products.

In the first part of the talk I will discuss a number of alternative pathways to transform furans (typically produced from glucose or xylose by dehydration) into valuable commodity chemicals. To this end we have developed and optimized zeolite catalyst compositions to form aromatic species out of the furans via Diels-Alder chemistry. We will describe efforts to producing benzoic acid and -methylstyrene from furans in high selectivity and high yield, along with the elucidation of the reaction mechanisms of these reactions.

In the second part I will discuss on-going research directed towards the development of catalysts for the selective oxidation of methane into methanol. We will show that zeolites can serve as hosts of transition metals oxide clusters (copper or iron) that are analogous to metal oxide clusters observed in a number of important enzymes such as particulate methane monooxygenase (pMMO). These clusters are capable of oxidizing methane to methanol, carbon monoxide and CO2. By selectively choosing materials that compartmentalize Cu-O clusters, we have identified zeolite structures that are able to selectively oxidize methane to methanol with very high selectivity in a three-step cyclic process. We will describe the potential and the drawbacks of transforming such cyclic process into a catalytic process for methanol production.

Despite the maturity of the field of catalysis this talk will show that tantalizing new opportunities emerge from the discovery of new catalyst structures and compositions, and from improvements in our control of the composition of metal clusters in nanoscopic environments.


Biography:  Raul F. Lobo is the Claire D. LeClaire professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware and Director of the Center for Catalytic Science and Technology.  His research interests span the development of novel porous materials for catalysis and separations, the chemistry of zeolites, catalysis for energy and the environment, and the scientific aspects of catalyst synthesis. He has published over one hundred forty refereed reports and he is co-inventor in three US patents. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Costa Rica in 1989 and later moved to California to pursue graduate studies in Chemical Engineering at Caltech. He worked for one year at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico as a postdoctoral fellow and he started his academic career at the University of Delaware in 1995.