Professor Friederike C. Jentoft (Principal Investigator) and Associate Professor Wei Fan (Co-PI) of the Chemical Engineering Department have received a two-year, $110,000 grant from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund. Their collaborative research aims to identify and investigate organic-inorganic surface sites capable of converting methane to higher alkanes at mild conditions. The objective is to design new catalysts and optimize the entire process.
In so doing, the two researchers will examine different catalysts and a variety of possible chain carriers while testing their ability to activate methane and start growth of a hydrocarbon chain. Then Jentoft and Fan seek to optimize the sites and achieve steady state catalytic operation. This research, if successful, could be of significant technological importance because it is especially pertinent to the current abundance of shale gas.
Professor Jentoft’s main research interest is in catalysis, which facilitates chemical reactions and enables the efficient industrial production of chemicals and fuels. As she says about her lab, “Our goal is to understand how catalytic reactions proceed and how performance of a catalyst is linked to its composition and structure. With this knowledge, we seek to design novel, more effective catalysts.”
According to Fan, his research “focuses on the rational synthesis of nanoporous materials for the catalysts of biorefinery and drug-delivery carriers with engineering their pore structure and size, surface properties, and active propagation sites based on the comprehensive understanding of their crystallization mechanism.”
The idea behind this ACS-funded research project is that some organic precursors interact with surface sites (acid, base, or others) on catalysts to form initiators, a process which triggers methane activation and hydrocarbon-chain formation and eventually high conversion of methane under low temperature conditions. The primary hosts for the organic-inorganic sites will be zeolites.
The proposed methane conversion process circumvents issues with CH4 (methane) coupling such as the formation of large amounts of by-products for thermodynamic reasons.
The researchers will bring complementary expertise from catalysis and materials synthesis to the proposed subject. Moreover, the ACS proposal includes a variety of active site designs. The proposal received accolades from the reviewers, who considered this combination a good strategy to mitigate risk and enhance the likelihood of success. (March 2019)