NEWS Zeolites

UMass Researchers Renew Department of Energy Funding to Study Faster Fabrication of Nanoporous Materials

This week, the Department of Energy announced renewed funding of an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UMass Amherst in chemistry and chemical engineering, studying new ways to fabricate nanoporous zeolite crystals with targeted defect patterns, which hold promise for producing carbon-neutral biofuels and capturing carbon dioxide.

“This research into how zeolite crystals form is critical for learning how to make the materials of the future for combatting climate change – targeted structures to revolutionize the sustainable production of both chemicals and fuels,” said Scott Auerbach, professor of chemistry at UMass Amherst and the principal investigator of the project.

Zeolites are solid materials with regular arrays of nanometer-sized cavities, making them the most-used synthetic catalysts on the planet – widely used for petrochemical refining, and holding promise for making clean fuels from biomass and for capturing carbon dioxide in zeolite cavities.

“The problem is that new zeolite architectures and chemical compositions are needed to reach the efficiencies required for broad adoption of these sustainable processes,” said Auerbach. “To make these new zeolites we need better understanding about how zeolites crystals form in the first place – that’s the focus of this project.”

The team’s new research builds from previous work that integrates zeolite synthesis experiments with computer simulations to generate atom-by-atom understanding of the zeolite formation process – from disordered precursors to ordered crystals. In their previous research, the team discovered a new pathway for making zeolites that both accelerates crystal formation and imparts targeted structural defects into the final material, making it better suited for processing biomass.

“This Department of Energy grant allows us to examine the new synthesis pathway for a wide range of different zeolite architectures, and to probe with atomic detail why this new pathway is faster and how it places defects into crystals,” said Wei Fan, professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst and the project’s co-principal investigator.

In the end, the team aims to generate new approaches for designing the synthesis of targeted zeolite materials, with desired amounts of defects inside the crystals. The funding will be mostly used to support the research of Ph.D. students in chemistry and chemical engineering working on the project.