00:00 AM

Clearing Paths for Renewable Fuels and Chemicals

Pitt assistant professor receives $110,000 to study CO2 recycling catalysts

John Keith PITTSBURGH (July 24, 2015) … The University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering has a rich history of petroleum and coal research, including establishing the first petroleum engineering program in the world in 1910. Today, Pitt engineering faculty are building upon those decades of research by exploring new sustainable methods to convert carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) into other materials.

To further his research in renewable energy catalysts, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund recently awarded a Doctoral New Investigator Award to John A. Keith, PhD, assistant professor and Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy in the Swanson School's Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The two-year, $110,000 grant, "Unraveling Heterocycle-Promoted Hydride Transfer Mechanisms for Energetically Efficient Fuel and Petrochemical Production" will enable Dr. Keith to study design principles for renewable energy catalysts that efficiently convert CO 2 into fuels and chemicals.

In particular, the funding will support Dr. Keith's computational modeling research at Pitt's Center for Simulation and Modeling (SaM) to better understand how molecules and materials can catalyze chemical reactions.

"Sustainable fuels research is hard because we need to discover ways to make difficult chemistry work without it being too expensive or energy-intensive," Dr. Keith explained.

According to Dr. Keith, the research program centers on understanding the role of molecules known as aromatic N-heterocycles, which earlier studies have shown can make CO 2 recycling more energetically efficient. The exact role of these molecules remains unclear, but Dr. Keith's group has identified links between these molecules and biological enzymes that catalyze natural chemical reactions efficiently.

Although the research is unlikely to lead to less CO 2 in the atmosphere in the near future, it will allow Dr. Keith's group to develop blueprints for how to make better catalysts. New investigations may also lead to the discovery of molecules that assist in other green chemical processes, such as efficient water splitting for renewable hydrogen generation or other energetically efficient routes to produce commodity chemicals in a more sustainable manner.

About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and our industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Our commitment to the future of the chemical process industry drives the development of educational and research programs. The Department has a tradition of excellence in education and research, evidenced by recent national awards including numerous NSF CAREER Awards, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, an NIH Director's New Innovator Award, and the DOE Hydrogen Program R&D Award, among others. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty has a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. ChE departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. The vibrant research culture within the Department includes active collaboration with the adjacent University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Center for Simulation and Modeling, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering and the U.S. DOE-affiliated Institute for Advanced Energy Solutions.


Author: Paul Kovach

Contact: Paul Kovach