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Ya-Huei (Cathy) Chin, Dept. of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry

Research area:

Alternative Fuels

Specialty focus areas:

Heterogeneous catalysis: Upgrading of biomass derived oxygenates into value-added chemicals and liquid fuels; Hydrogen and syngas production: Hydrogen production in micro-structured, high-throughput reactors; Conversion of biomass into valued-added chemicals: Chemoselective hydrogenation of biomass derived oxygenates


The proposed work aims to develop innovative catalytic processing routes to selectively convert oxygenates derived from lignocellulosic biomass into valuable chemicals and liquid fuels. Development of these new routes requires a precise tailoring of each of the functionalities present in the catalyst and a careful matching of these catalytic sites to the functional groups present in the oxygenate feedstock. While achieving this atomic precision requires that we get a clear description of the molecular events taking place during catalysis, our main objective is to take this fundamental understanding to the next level by establishing a rigorous set of relationships between thermodynamic properties and catalytic site requirements needed to achieve successful catalytic transformation. Combined with process optimization, this approach will result in unprecedented levels of catalytic turnovers and selectivities, thus reducing the physical foot print of the chemical processes required to achieve a specific performance. ... Finding carbon-efficient routes for upgrading heavy oil is a grand challenge in energy. We seek innovative catalytic conversion technology that alleviates the high energy intensity inherent in hydrogen production with the use of microstructured reactors operated at heat and mass transport length scales unattainable in conventional systems. Our multidisciplinary research strategy integrates materials discovery, chemical kinetics, and microstructured reactor development to deliver an integrated process technology, which produces hydrogen on-demand using microstructured reactors via partial oxidation of flexible fuel sources. The technology exploits microreactor technology, which has matured over the past decade, to intensify chemical processes such that hydrogen is delivered within a compact, efficient system with minimal fossil CO2 emissions. ... -unsaturated aldehydes and ketones derived from biomass processing may undergo chemoselective hydrogenation to form unsaturated alcohols as valuable intermediates in fine chemical synthesis. The selective hydrogenation has, however, remained a challenging chemistry, because C=O bond activation is thermodynamically less favorable compared with the competitive olefinic hydrogenation step. We investigate the active site requirements that promote the selective activation of C=O bond while suppress the C=C bond hydrogenation using kinetics, spectroscopic, and electronic structure methods. We synthesize a series of Cu, Au, and Ag nano-clusters with well-defined shapes using controlled precipitation methods and interrogate the connection between their chemical properties and catalytic effects using in-situ infrared (IR) spectroscopy and adsorption-desorption experiments. The goal is to establish detailed mechanistic insights for the C=O and C=C bond hydrogenation reactions.

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