475989 Synthesis and Optimization of Nanomaterials for Sustainable Energy Generation and Catalysis

Sunday, November 13, 2016
Continental 4 & 5 (Hilton San Francisco Union Square)
Ayomi S. Perera, Chemical Engineering, University College London, London, United Kingdom

Research Interests:

The effectiveness of a supramolecular substrate, a solar cell, or a catalyst, heavily depends on the successful manipulation of its constituent components, at the nanoscale. Such manipulation begins at early-stage materials development, whether it is extraction of a protein, synthesis of a new photo-active material, fabrication of a composite energy-generating device, or development of novel catalysts. Understanding the key chemical/physical characteristics of these materials which render them their unique activity is the foundation leading to their successful isolation/fabrication and consequent optimization.

The highly robust, Mycobacterial channel protein “MspA”, has been isolated in high yield and purity, which served as a building block for synthesis of supramolecular aggregates of protein-organic dye and protein-metal/metal oxide nanoparticle clusters. The specific extraction and purification techniques employed for MspA, had a remarkable impact on its self-organization behavior in aqueous media, which in turn, had a significant impact on its aggregation behavior with external nanomaterials. The optimal aggregate size for various applications (such as drug delivery, hyperthermia and channel activity) of these clusters was studied extensively under various mediums and temperatures. The protein-organic dye clusters in particular, displayed remarkable thermo-stability and showed dynamic surface charge interactions with a buffer medium. These were used successfully in a dye-sensitized TiO2 based photo-voltaic device, to conduct electricity under simulated sunlight, thus forming the first ever, hybrid, nano-protein solar cell prototype.

Iron/iron(III) oxide core-shell nanoparticles and micro-mesoporous titanosilicates are two types of highly valuable catalysts, with industrial appeal. The core-shell nanoparticles were functionalized with sulfonic acid and used as a highly selective catalyst to hydrolyze cellulose into glucose. A statistical technique was used to systematically optimize the reaction conditions of the above. The statistically-guided optimization led to high selectivity toward glucose, while production of 5-HMF and other monosaccharides were decreased. Reduction of 5-HMF is particularly significant as it is toxic to yeast, which are used industrially, to convert cellulose degradation products into ethanol. The catalyst was found to be highly stable and reusable, due to its magnetic property, thus, leading to a potential sustainable, technology for conversion of plant matter into ethanol. The same statistical approach mentioned above, was utilized to simultaneously probe synthetic parameters of a novel, hierarchically ordered, micro-mesoporous titanosilicate (MMTS), with the aim of achieving enhanced catalytic performance. MMTS was used to catalyze the epoxidation of cyclohexene with tert-butylhydroperoxide, and demonstrated unprecedented catalytic activity and high product selectivity. Thus, systematic nanoscale manipulation of reaction conditions and material synthesis, drastically improves the efficiency of catalysis.

The above is a summary of work from my PhD, followed by a short post-doctoral study, conducted at Kansas State University (advisor Prof Stefan Bossmann), and of my current post-doctoral research, conducted at University College London (advisor Prof Marc-Olivier Coppens). My future research plans include development of novel nanomaterials via sustainable routes for energy generation and catalysis.

Teaching Interests: I am experienced in conducting lectures and lab classes in areas of physical organic chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry and organometallic chemistry. I am interested in further expanding my scope of teaching into thermodynamics and nanomaterials engineering.


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