282204 Rational Selection of Ionic Liquids for the Catalytic Conversion of Renewable Feedstock

Sunday, October 28, 2012
Hall B (Convention Center )
Sameer Parvathikar, Andrew R. Tadd and Johannes W. Schwank, Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Widespread adoption of biomass-derived fuels and chemicals has been hampered by low process efficiencies, inhibitive capital and operating costs, and other constraints inherent with current biomass conversion technologies. Ionic liquids (ILs), which are low melting salts, have unique properties like negligent vapor pressure, tunable physical and chemical properties, which make them great alternatives to conventional solvents. ILs, particularly, 1,3-dialkylimidazolium-based ones, have been demonstrated to be great solvents for reactions like the dissolution of cellulose, among others. This makes them promising alternatives to current biomass conversion technologies. While these ILs have proven to be quite capable of processing these large biomolecules, their widespread adoption has been limited due to their toxicity and inhibitive costs.

It is clear that there is a need for less expensive, and environmentally benign alternatives. The search for these alternative solvents currently, can be best described as Edisonian in nature. The objective of this work was to design solvent systems that result in increased yields of our desired product and be capable of dissolving and then converting higher fractions of macromolecules like cellulose and hemicellulose, by developing a deeper understanding of the interaction between the solute (biomolecules) and the solvent. A number of solvent properties like ability to donate or accept hydrogen bonds, acidity, etc., will be studied for both imidazolium-based ILs and lower-cost alternatives. Using probe reactions like the isomerization and dehydration of sugars, property-performance relationships will be established. The effect of using different catalysts to affect the reaction environment and thence product yields will also be examined. This work will provide insights into rationally selecting ILs to perform targeted chemistries.

My research and teaching activities, here at the University of Michigan, have complemented each other very well. Among other skills, teaching has taught me how to communicate to audiences with a wide variety of cognitive skills, offered opportunities to receive and implement constructive feedback, and hence develop personally and professionally. From teaching design of experiments and statistical significance of data in laboratory classes, to helping students develop problem-solving skills in theoretical classes, I have been able to use not just skills learned in my research, but offer concrete examples as well. As a teacher and an educator, my goal is to instill in students, a passion for learning, develop critical evaluation, insightful decision-making and risk-taking skills – all necessary tools for a successful engineer. I aim to create a caring, safe and creative environment for a student to grow into a confident and knowledgeable professional, and to help me, as a teacher, to grow with them.

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