TU, OU, OSU collaboration receives $2.9 million from DOE

Friday, November 05, 2010

Grant will help establish new Center for Interfacial Reaction Engineering

A research team made up of five faculty members from The University of Tulsa, University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University has received a $2.9 million grant that could help develop technology to efficiently refine complex biofuels and fossil fuels.

The award, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, will help establish a new Center for Interfacial Reaction Engineering.

Researchers include Sanwu Wang, assistant professor in physics at TU; Jeffrey Harwell and Friederike Jentoft, OU professors with expertise in colloidal chemistry and catalysis; and Khaled Gasem, professor and head of the OSU School of Chemical Engineering. Daniel Resasco, OU professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering, is the leading principal investigator and will direct the activities of the joint project.

In very simple terms, one researcher described similar efforts as figuring out how to separate tea and sugar after they’ve been stirred together in a cup.

According to Resasco and Wang, tiny nanoparticles are used in the integrated catalytic process to accelerate reactions at the interface of water and oil. Solid nanoparticles that are attracted to water and oil seek out water-oil interfaces. The product of the reaction is an emulsion used to convert biomass in the refinery process or in enhanced oil recovery processes.

As part of the research, Dr. Wang will contribute fundamental understanding about nanocatalysis based on quantum theory. Large-scale quantum mechanical calculations will be employed to investigate the atomic structures and electronic properties of the pertinent catalytic nanohybrids composed of carbon nanotubes, silica, and metal/metal-oxide nanoparticles. A set of the associated catalytic chemical reactions including deoxygenation, decarbonylation, hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis of aromatic oxygenates, as well as partial oxidation of the oil components in highly viscous crudes, will be also studied.

Key elements of the new technology are multifunctional materials that serve as solid surfactants and as catalysts. Nano-sized catalytic components, namely nanocatalysis, in such materials play particularly important roles, Wang said. Fundamental understanding about the multifunctional materials is an important issue in this project.

An article on this subject was published in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Science.


Sanwu Wang