What We Do
Globally, several hundred thousand barrels per day of alternative materials have been manufactured from syngas (CO and H2). These include waxes, oils, jet fuels, diesel, gasoline, polymer-based monomers for plastics, alcohols (e.g. ethanol and methanol), rubbers, and even beauty products. Although CO hydrogenation has been researched for near a century, a significant question remains – what is occurring on the surface of the catalyst? Even though CO hydrogenation operates as a polymerization process to induce carbon-carbon bond formation through its proficiency – it is only considered a pseudo-polymerization process, because polymerization processes occur through the connection of a single monomer where the reactants are known (H2/CO), but not the monomer.
If hydrogen could be harnessed and utilized, CO2 would be drastically reduced. The importance of our research lies in the several different routes that are taken to utilize CO2. Steam reforming and water-gas-shift are both industrial processes utilized today with fuel cells, to upgrade the production of liquid fuels from natural carbon sources for bio-to-liquids and coal-to-liquids. Yet, as with the Fischer-Tropsch reaction, the exact mechanism has not been fully revealed and there are a few different proposals.
Water to hydrogen would be a great route to study as, even in the production of H2, unlike the 3 previous processes, carbon would not play a role – thus no CO2 is produced.
The ability to utilize, not just capture, CO2 is important evidence showing that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Like water, it is at the bottom of the thermodynamic well; thus, converting it to another, more useful molecule requires energy. Our group probes materials and bio-materials for the capture and utilization of CO2 through a multi-disciplinary route.
Much of our research is dependent on the materials utilized for pairing with many systems, whether carbon, silica, or specific zeolites.
Our group probes smaller routes of utilization by working with mathematical modeling to explore various methods. Although much of our work is in the materials utilized, some of the work to research the homogenous catalysts and processes to study these materials in a variety of medicinal and biological reactions is designed and led by students. The Crew is also probing local forest environments to begin exploration of evasive species and to learn how and why they thrive. The goal is to further understand how to remove the evasive species through environmentally benign routes.
The Crew has also begun some collaborative work with the Media Communications department to assist in understanding many in-house historical materials. This collaborative effort will increase understanding of issues related to these collections, including decomposition and maintenance, by studying them with common analytical techniques, and possibly through uncommon routes of light and photography. A majority of the collection is from the historic production designer, John DeCuir. This is a fantastic opportunity for the Crew learn about the history of production design, and work with the art and design community to preserve and honor a distinguished heritage.