Understanding chemical reactions, developing better catalysts, and engineering reacting systems is a core component of chemical engineering. Research at Michigan in this increasingly significant area includes biomass conversion to fuels and chemicals, electrochemical reactions, plasma chemistry, petroleum production, biochemical engineering, environmental catalysis, fuel cells, CO2 capture and conversion. We employ computational, experimental and modeling approaches, often in concert, to solve pressing societal problems.
Catalysis is at the heart of fuel and chemicals production, and for more than a decade, Professor Mark Barteau has pursued catalyst design from nano-scale understanding of reaction mechanisms and their connection to catalyst sites. The current efforts of Barteau’s group are focused on design of novel materials for selective formation of oxygen-containing products from both biomass-derived feedstocks as well as from hydrocarbons, and new approaches to the utilization of nano-catalysts in unconventional reaction environments.
Ongoing research topics for Professor Scott Fogler and his research group include: flow, reaction, precipitation and modeling of wax deposition in subsea pipelines; fused chemical reactions; asphaltene deposition and precipitation; rheometric and microscopic studies of crystallization and of gel breaking phenomena; asphaltene characterization and precipitation kinetics; and catalyzed dissolution of minerals. A number of research results are now being used in industrial applications.
Catalysis research in Professor Goldsmith’s group is focused on applying first-principles modeling (e.g., density-functional theory and molecular dynamics) and predictive theories to gain a deeper understanding of heterogeneous and homogeneous catalytic processes for natural gas conversion, pollution reduction, and energy generation. Some systems of interest include dispersed metal ions on amorphous supports, metallic clusters supported on metal oxides, and homogeneous organometallic catalysts for a variety of important reactions.
Professor Erdogan Gulari’s research group is active in developing catalysts for energy-related applications both in converting biomass to hydrocarbon fuels as well as clean up of emissions. They are currently focusing on producing and improving upon enzymes found in termite guts for breaking down cellulosic material and new catalysts for converting CO2 to liquid hydrocarbons.
Professor Mark Kushner and his group computationally investigate the fundamental transport and kinetic properties of low temperature plasmas (partially ionized gases), plasma chemistry and plasma surface interactions and their application to society benefiting technologies. Current projects include plasma fabrication of advanced materials for nano-electronics, plasma medicine (use of plasmas for human healthcare), macro- and micro-plasmas as photonic sources, plasmas in liquids, plasma treatment of porous polymeric membranes, and plasma aided combustion for energy efficient transport systems.
The central objective of Professor Suljo Linic’s lab is the development of predictive theories of surface chemistry related to heterogeneous catalysis, electrocatalysis and photocatalysis. Lab members are currently working on a number of projects that aim to address various issues in the fields of energy and environment, functional nanomaterials, industrially-important reactions and fundamental heterogeneous catalysis.
Professor Heather Mayes and her team uncover elementary reaction mechanisms using computational chemistry and multiscale simulations. Coupling enhanced sampling methods with data analysis provides a powerful mechanism for determining structure-function relationships. The Mayes group is especially interested in protein-sugar interactions, including enzymatic conversion of carbohydrates in applications from healthcare to the production of renewable chemicals and fuels from nonfood biomass. Fundamental insight into enzymatic catalysis provides insight into how enzymes achieve prodigious efficiency and how small mutations can drastically change activity. We also use this insight to hypothesize and test how to improve activity through rational design.
Catalysis research in Professor Johannes Schwank’s lab is focused on correlations between the catalyst structure, composition and catalytic function in reactions of industrial importance. Current projects include autothermal reforming of hydrocarbons, solid oxide fuel cell anode catalysts, automotive emission control catalysis, photocatalysis, production of synthetic fuel via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, cellulosic biomass conversion into fuels and value added chemicals, and gas sensors.
Professor Levi Thompson and his research group focus on the design, synthesis and characterization of nanostructured materials for applications including catalysis and energy storage. Of particular interest are catalysts for hydrogen production (e.g. water gas shift and steam reforming) and hydrogenation (e.g. Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis and CO2 hydrogenation) reactions, electrode materials for supercapacitors and lithium ion batteries, and metal coordination complexes for redox flow batteries.
In the development of biofuels, Professor Fei Wen and her team rely on enzymatic catalysis to degrade biomass to sugars, which can be fermented.
Professor Ralph Yang and his research group synthesize new nanostructured materials for difficult separations by exploiting weak and reversible chemical bonds, such as pi-complexation. The group studies new sorbents for removing sulfur from fuels and for CO2 capture as well as materials for hydrogen storage.
Professor Robert Ziff and his group have developed a kinetic Monte Carlo technique that allows reaction dynamics to be studied efficiently, including the kinetic phase transitions that occur in such systems. Ziff and his colleagues apply this to the reactions that take place on an automotive catalytic converter. The group also uses percolation models to study such phenomena as flow through porous media, conductivity of composites such as nano-tubules, polymer gelation and growth of the giant component in networked systems.