Sustainable Chemistry...

Most fuels, detergents, and materials we use on an every-day basis are made from petroleum or other non-renewable feedstocks. In many cases, the production of those "every-day chemicals" causes the generation of chemical waste; moreover, large amounts of energy are needed for manufacturing fuels and other fine chemicals.

In an era of shrinking petroleum-based supplies, catalysts that enable the transformation of chemicals into more useful products have the potential to lead to processes that use inexpensive, abundant, and nontoxic starting materials; generate less waste; and, use less energy.

Our first approach to achieve this goal consists in developing new reagents and catalysts that enable one-step instead of multi-step transformations. Challenges in this area include the direct, intermolecular C-H amination to synthesize aromatic and aliphatic amines, the development of a "waste-free" oxidation method that use abundant air as the oxidant, and the design of catalysts for the oxidative functionalization of amines that mimics Cytochrome P450 metabolism. All these efforst will ideally help to use petroleum-based resources more efficiently.

...implementing Catalysis and Recycling.

A second area in our group approaches the same problem from a different direction: What if we could use truly renewable resources as feedstocks for finechemicals and fuels? By synthesizing hydrocarbons from "scratch" (CO2 and H2, which should ideally be derived from solar-driven water splitting), we hope to substitute fossil feedstocks with synthetically made materials. We strive to synthesize hydrocarbons that are identical with the petroleum-derived ones on a molecular level to achieve the broadest applicability in the fuel, chemical, pharmaceutical, and polymer industry. Furthermore, we use our expertise in mechanistic chemistry to elucidate mechanisms involved in the conversion of biomass to useful chemical building blocks, thus providing rational design criteria for catalytic methodologies.

A third research area deals with addressing the issue of recyclability of critical materials as a crucial component of the Materials Lifecycle. In particular, we focus on new separation technologies for rare earths and scandium that have applications in recycling these precious metals from end-of-life products and recovery from production wastes. This research is performed in collaboration with industrial and academic partners in the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3), an NSF I/UCRC center, located at WPI, the Colorado School of Mines, and KU Leuven (Belgium).

Our research has been funded by the following sponsors: