Professor Friederike Jentoft, department of chemical engineering, has been awarded a $550,000 U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Financial Assistance Program to continue her work on acid catalyst design.
Acid catalysis plays a key role in commercially established and emerging processes for the transformation of petroleum- or biomass-derived feedstocks to chemicals and fuels. Jentoft’s project focuses on acid-catalyzed processes that are characterized by long-lived surface species, which are often trapped in the pores of a solid catalyst.
“It is absolutely fascinating to me that the solid material that is placed into the reactor as the catalyst often has to undergo bulk and surface transformations to become catalytically active” Jentoft states. “It also makes our research very challenging because characterization of the starting material as such is insufficient.”
In some instances, these species appear to be necessary for the catalysis to proceed, whereas in other cases, they lead to deactivation of the catalyst. The objective of Jentoft’s project is to unravel the nature and reactivity of such species, and to use this knowledge to design better catalysts and more efficient chemical processes by promoting the target reaction while suppressing side product formation and deactivation. The catalytic transformation central to the project is the conversion of methanol to olefins, which is both of industrial relevance and a compelling example of an unresolved, complex mechanism. Methanol can be produced from diverse feedstocks, and olefins are both useful monomers and precursors for higher-value molecules.
The research conducted in this project establishes the reaction network of methanol-to-olefins conversion via a staged plan. In the first stage, a knowledge database is generated that enables identification of surface species by their vibrations and electronic transitions, which can be probed by spectroscopy.
“Thanks to several diligent and outstanding graduate students, we are already in the position to interpret spectra with unprecented insight,“ Jentoft comments. “but we still need to expand and deepen our understanding.“
In the second stage, correlations between spectroscopically measured concentrations of surface species and gas phase product formation rates pinpoint catalytically relevant intermediates among the variety of species typically present on a catalyst surface. In the third stage, these new insights are used to tailor the catalyst. Anticipated outcomes are fundamental insights into organic surface reactions on solid acids, new strategies to combat deactivation in acid-catalyzed processes and improved catalysts for methanol-to-olefins conversion. Jentoft says “I am thrilled about the support for our group’s fundamental research.”