Thrust II: Nanocatalysts for conversion of syngas to biofuel and hydrogen

The production and use of renewable, cost-effective, clean, and environmentally friendly fuels will improve the economy, waste management, and the global environment as well as human health. An interdisciplinary research team, involving scientists and engineers with experimental and computational expertise, is engaging in a collaborative research project on conversion of syngas to biofuel and hydrogen via steam reforming reactions using novel nanocatalysts encapsulated in high surface area mesoporous supports.

  • Thrust II is focused on the NSF programs Chemical and Biological Separations (CBS), Energy Sustainability, Catalysis and Biocatalysis under the Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental & Transport (CBET) Systems Division to explore and discover new materials for catalysis and a fundamental understanding of the processes in the area of biofuel production.

Development of silica-based encapsulated nanocatalysts, synthesized using a hydrothermal procedure developed in our laboratory, followed by screening in a Si-microreactor, will lead to the production of new catalysts for syngas conversion to fuels and production of hydrogen.

The developed catalysts will possess enriched, high and accessible surface area, which will provide a uniform distribution of nanoparticles, crucial for catalytic processes.

The utilization of non-noble metals catalysts will significantly reduce the cost of the catalysts.

Addition of second or third metal is expected to significantly reduce catalytic poisoning by oxidative elimination of CO or sulfur compounds.

Poison-tolerant multifunctional catalysts

This strategy is expected to produce also a new generation of poison-tolerant multifunctional catalysts. The catalyst will be tested and optimized in the syngas-to-biofuel and hydrogen production reactors in our laboratory. The structural integrity with an exceedingly stabilizing environment will offer enormous potential for applications in nanoscience and catalysis due to its low dimensionality, quantum size effect, and formation of nano-vessel reactors.

The composition, structure, physicochemical properties, and surface morphology of the synthesized composites will be characterized by direct and in situ methods at North Carolina A&T State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory to understand the fundamental aspects of mesoporous multimetallic catalysts.

These studies, coupled with computational modeling to be performed at N.C. A&T and Louisiana Tech will help in understanding the effect of conformational parameters such as shape, size and composition of nanocatalysts on the activity, stability and selectivity of catalysts in syngas-to-biofuel and steam reforming or hydrogen production reactions.

Fundamental knowledge on the synthesis and characterization of novel materials and catalyst supports is integral to many industrial processes. Therefore, the success of this work will advance our current understanding of materials at the molecular level and facilitate efforts to produce novel materials with superior characteristics for catalysis, separation and other applications.

This work also will have far-reaching implications for the field of material science and a broader impact on nanoscience/nanotechnology. In addition, this project will provide a technological and rational design platform for expediting the development of novel materials and nanocatalysts for biofuels and a hydrogen economy.

Synergy with other thrust areas

  • Syngas obtained from biomass gasification (Thrust I) as well as simulated syngas will be used as feed for this subproject (Thrust II). The catalyst developed here is used for biofuels and for H2 production, which is relevant to the research proposed in Thrust III.
  • This thrust area and Thrust III share a common platform of nanocatalysts/support for biofuel production. The proposed studies will promote interdisciplinary research across the N.C. A&T campus and beyond in science and engineering such as chemistry, mathematics, chemical engineering, biological engineering and materials science.
  • It is also expected to increase the public awareness and acceptance of the use of biofuels, nanotechnology and related areas.