Exploring the areas of catalysis, surface science, and materials…

We investigate the fundamental mechanisms by which catalysts facilitate the of valuable fuels and fine chemicals while producing less waste. Efficient processes are necessary to make the most of these resources, which in turn require selective catalysts. We identify specific problems in large scale catalytic processes (e.g., low selectivities, use of environmentally harmful reagents, diminishing petroleum reserves) and develop methods to improve these chemistries in order to selectively convert of non-traditional fossil and renewable resources (such as tar sands, heavy crude oil, and biomass) into useful products.

A few common elementary steps, parts of complex reaction sequences, are important in the majority of industrial catalytic processes (e.g., C-C, C-O, and C-X bond cleavage; C-O coupling; H-H and O-O activation). Therefore, we use an array of techniques to develop understanding of how specific thermodynamic driving forces influence rates and selectivities of these steps; this information is critical in order to design new catalysts that provide higher selectivities and conversion rates. We couple kinetic and spectroscopic measurements of product formation rates, surface intermediates, and catalyst structure to build our knowledge of how specific properties of the catalysts (elemental identity, metal coordination, support and steric effects) determine the identity of the products and how quickly they form.

The information we gain from such experiments is used to develop a detailed picture of the catalytic mechanism for a given reaction. We determine distinct steps in the process that are responsible for setting the ultimate selectivity of the reaction. Subsequently, we develop and test hypotheses for how these critical steps depend on the properties of catalytic surfaces. We can then focus on using simple, inexpensive, and scalable methods to synthesize catalysts that possess the correct structure and composition in order to provide greater yields of the desirable products.

Overall, our goal is to gain intimate knowledge of what matters for a specific catalytic reaction so that we understand how to create a better catalyst or a more efficient process.

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