381981 Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals from Catalytic Conversion of Natural Gas and Biomass

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Zhenglong Li, School of Chemical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

As petroleum reserves decrease, price increases and the impact of rising atmospheric CO2 is exacerbated, world production of fuels and chemicals must shift to low-carbon and sustainable resources, such as biomass and natural gas.  Conversion of these sustainable resources into fuels and valuable chemicals is very attractive, but also very challenging.  Innovative technologies for this conversion could help break the technical barriers and lower the costs for commercial applications.  I have been working on developing new technologies and new catalysts for biomass and natural gas conversion since my Ph.D. work. 

My Ph.D. study was on fast pyrolysis of biomass and catalytic upgrading to liquid fuels and valuable chemicals.  One of the most important contributions is the development of a new electrocatalytic method with a ruthenium electrocatalyst for biomass conversion, converting electrical energy into carbon-neutral drop-in replacement fuels and valuable chemicals.  This method provides substantial advantages, including no need of hydrogen gas, operation at mild conditions to reduce coke formation and catalyst deactivation, and a great way to store intermittent renewable electricity as chemical energy in liquid fuels.  The other significant contribution is the development of a new screw-conveyor pyrolysis reactor with compact design, enabling flexible application in regional biomass processing depots, showing great potential to solve biomass supply issue.  

To deepen and expand my knowledge in catalysis and sustainable energy, I continued my postdoc research with Prof. Fabio H. Ribeiro and Prof. W. Nicholas Delgass at Purdue University.  One of my projects is to understand the catalytic active sites on precious metal catalysts (Au on metal oxides) for water-gas shift reaction from the fundamental and atomic perspectives by studying kinetics and applying various detailed catalyst characterization methods.  Another important aspect of my work involves synthesis and characterization of heterogeneous lewis acid zeolite catalysts, such as Sn-, Ti- and Zr-zeolites.  These catalysts are being tested for condensation of glycerol with aldehydes or ketones to produce fuel additives for diesel fuel, and also to probe the active sites and reaction mechanism.  As an expansion on sustainable energy study, I have been studying methane activation via oxidative coupling for ethylene formation using Mn/Na2WO4/SiO2.  The major work is on understanding of the active sites for methane activation by doing kinetic study and catalyst characterization and using the information gained to design better catalysts.  

My future research interests are applying the knowledge of catalyst synthesis, active sites characterization and kinetic studies in biomass and natural gas conversion, such as bio-oil upgrading, catalytic pyrolysis, ethanol and glycerol conversion, and syngas to liquid fuels.  Another interest lies in electrocatalytic conversion of biomass and natural gas using renewable electricity (such as photovoltaic and wind energy) and simultaneously storing intermittent renewable electricity as chemical energy in the form of liquid fuels and valuable chemicals.  I will focus on designing bimetallic and bifunctional electrocatalysts, developing high temperature electrochemical systems and integrating renewable electricity techniques with electrocatalytic method for biomass and natural gas conversion.

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