The chemical transformation of biomass into fuels is a process that provides a renewable source of energy, decreases dependence on fossil fuels, and provides new markets for agricultural products and bioproducts. A major challenge in the reforming of biomass is the removal of oxygen, which decreases the long-term stability of biomass derivatives. New catalysts are needed to facilitate the conversion of biomass into useable fuels, as well as high-value chemicals. In this research project, Dr. Donna A. Chen of the University of South Carolina and Dr. Graeme Henkelman of the University of Texas at Austin are studying catalysts composed of two different metals that target specific chemical reactions associated with the different functional groups in biomass derivatives. Both researchers are also engaged in outreach activities that promote the scientific education and training of students of all levels. In conjunction with local elementary schools, Dr. Chen is developing hands-on chemistry tutorials and demonstrations that fit directly into the students' science curriculum. Dr. Henkelman leads an initiative that recruits freshman college students into active research programs and targets students who are from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in science.
With funding from the Chemical Catalysis Program of the Chemistry Division, Dr. Donna A. Chen from the University of South Carolina and Dr. Graeme Henkelman from the University of Texas at Austin develop selective catalysts for the conversion of highly functionalized molecules derived from cellulosic biomass reforming. Oxide-supported bimetallic catalysts such as Pt-Sn are investigated for the selective hydrogenation of furfural for the subsequent production of adhesives, cements, and coatings. The bifunctional nature of the Pt-Sn surfaces should allow selective hydrogenation of the C=O bond with high activity while inhibiting other hydrogenation pathways. On the other hand, strong interactions between Pt and the oxide support are expected to improve selectivity and prevent carbon fouling. Dr. Chen studies model, well-defined Pt-Sn/titania surfaces prepared in ultrahigh vacuum (UHV). These model surfaces are characterized using a variety of surface science techniques. Catalytic activity studies are conducted in a microreactor directly coupled to the UHV chamber. Dr. Henkelman models the supported bimetallic particles using density functional theory to understand activity, selectively and stability, and to predict which bimetallic combinations are expected to exhibit desirable properties.
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.