John Keith Awarded ACS Petroleum Research Fund to Study CO2 Recycling Catalysts

  • By Aude Marjolin
  • 24 July 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 (CO2) 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 PQI faculty John A. Keith. 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 CO2 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 CO2 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 CO2 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. 

Read the original article here.