With support from the Division of Chemistry and the Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems Division, Jean-Philippe Tessonnier of Iowa State University, Gerardine Botte of Ohio University, and Song Lin of Cornell University lead efforts to organize a workshop to address challenges in the broad field of organic electrosynthesis. Recent research by the chemistry community has revealed new opportunities to synthesize organic molecules by electrochemical means rather than by conventional thermal reactions that rely on non-renewable fossil carbon feedstocks. The project supports a workshop that will bring together experts from the chemistry, materials science, and engineering communities to identify the state of the field and identify opportunities for collaborative and convergent research across the various communities to advance understanding and application of electrochemistry for the manufacture of organic molecules important to a broad range of industries. The workshop is held in Alexandria, Virginia in February of 2020, and includes about 50 participants representing academic institutions, industry, and the national laboratories. The workshop participants include a diverse group of attendees including students, early-career researchers, and senior-level technical experts.
Electrochemical synthesis and chemical processing of organic materials into high-value products is a growing research area given the facile integration of electrochemistry with electricity generated from sustainable sources such as photovoltaic devices, wind turbines, and hydroelectric power. The trend toward and likely eventual elimination of fossil carbon (coal, petroleum, natural gas) as a raw material will require replacement with oxidized forms of carbon (biomass, CO2). Conversion of these oxidized raw materials in turn will require inexpensive and sustainable reducing equivalents - something that does not exist today, and that electrochemistry can ideally address. Electrochemistry and electrocatalysis provide unique opportunities for increasing conversion efficiencies and for synthesizing new molecules that are not accessible thermochemically or photochemically. Simultaneously, the engineering community is increasingly recognizing research opportunities for electrochemistry to streamline biocatalysis and chemocatalysis in biorefineries, and to manufacture chemicals from regional- and community-scale quantities of agricultural waste. Opportunities also exist for discovery and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals. Many of these efforts remain exploratory, as a fundamental understanding of the elementary processes involved in these transformations is still lacking. Concerted efforts in synthetic chemistry, electrochemistry, materials science, heterogeneous catalysis, and computational science are needed to harness the transformative knowledge required to develop this technology, push its implementation in industry, and create new value chains. To this end, the workshop brings together experts to identify the state of the field and identify opportunities for collaborative and convergent research across the various communities to advance understanding and application of electrochemistry for the manufacture of a broad range of organic molecules in processes that utilize renewable feedstocks and sustainable energy. Student attendance at the workshop is supported by a separate grant from the Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Science. Workshop proceedings are published in a prominent technical journal providing broad dissemination of outcomes to the technical community.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.