Heterogeneous Catalysis for Energy Production
Heterogeneous catalysis is important for increasing the efficiency and reducing the cost to produce valuable chemicals. This is especially true for energy production. There are three current projects in this area ongoing in the chemical engineering department at K-State.
In the first project, new catalysts are being developed for converting biomass to fuels and chemicals that are easily separable from the feed and product stocks. Magnetic nanoparticles are being acid-functionalized to break down cellulose to fermentable sugars. The nanoparticles offer a number of advantages over other acid catalysts: they are easily separable using a magnet, their acidity can be modified through choice of functional group, and they are reusable.
In the second project, a hybrid biochemical/catalytic processes is being developed to produce chemicals from biomass. In this approach, fermentation converts biomass to useful intermediate chemicals (such as 2,3-butanediol) which are then converted to chemicals like methyl ethyl ketone or a liquid fuel-precursor like butene. By using both biochemical and catalytic processes, we are harnessing the positive features of each (fermentation can be highly specific to one product, catalytic reactions can be very fast) while minimizing their negative aspects (fermentation can be slow, catalytic reactions are not always selective).
A final research interest is the production of hydrogen from liquid fuels through catalytic partial oxidation. Bimetallic catalysts are being developed to convert military logistic fuels, like JP-8, to hydrogen, where it can be used in fuel cells for portable power generation. The bimetallic Pt/Ni catalysts being developed offer a number of advantages: catalyst cost is decreased by replacing some Pt with Ni and the two metals offer complementary features (Pt is very active for oxidation, while Ni is active for steam reforming reactions).
All projects include synthesize of the catalysts, characterization of their physical and chemical properties using a variety of techniques (x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy, temperature-programmed methods, x-ray diffraction), and testing their catalyst activity for the reaction of interest.