Biomass and Natural Gas Valorization by Zeolite Catalysis

Meeting Program – February 2017

Raul Lobo
Raul Lobo
Claire D. LeClaire professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering,
University of Delaware


Abstract – Prof. Lobo’s research group is interested in developing and understanding catalysis systems to enable the transformation abundant, inexpensive and—when possible—renewable carbon sources into feedstocks for the chemical industry. We combine expertise in materials synthesis, catalysis and kinetics, and reaction engineering to develop novel catalysts and catalytic processes that produce valuable products.

In the first part I will focus on C-C bond forming reactions that are helpful in the transformation of furans (produced from glucose or xylose by dehydration) into valuable commodity chemicals. To this end we have developed and optimized zeolite catalyst compositions to form aromatic species out of the furans via Diels-Alder reactions and Friedel-Craft acylation reactions. We will describe efforts to producing benzoic acid and α-methylstyrene from furans in high selectivity and high yield, along with the elucidation of the reaction mechanisms of these reactions.

In the second part I will discuss on-going research directed towards the development of catalysts for the selective oxidation of methane into methanol. We will show that zeolites can serve as hosts of transition metals oxide clusters (copper or iron) that are analogous to metal oxide clusters observed in a number of important enzymes such as particulate methane monooxygenase (pMMO). These clusters are capable of oxidizing methane to methanol, carbon monoxide and CO2. By selectively choosing materials that compartmentalize Cu-O clusters, we have identified zeolite structures that are able to selectively oxidize methane to methanol with very high selectivity in a three-step cyclic process. We will describe the potential and the drawbacks of transforming such cyclic process into a catalytic process for methanol production.

Despite the maturity of the field of catalysis this talk will show that tantalizing new opportunities emerge from the discovery of new catalyst structures and compositions, and from improvements in our control of the composition of metal clusters in nanoscopic environments.

Biography – Raul F. Lobo is the Claire D. LeClaire professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware and Director of the Center for Catalytic Science and Technology. His research interests span the development of novel porous materials for catalysis and separations, the chemistry of zeolites, catalysis for energy and the environment, and the scientific aspects of catalyst synthesis. He has published over one hundred fifty refereed reports and he is co-inventor in three US patents. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Costa Rica in 1989 and later moved to California to pursue graduate studies in Chemical Engineering at Caltech. He worked for one year at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico as a postdoctoral fellow and he started his academic career at the University of Delaware in 1995.

Prof. Lobo has conducted research in the use of zeolites for nitrogen/oxygen separations, and carbon dioxide separations from flue gases. He has contributed to the fundamentals of zeolite nucleation and crystal growth and to the application of zeolites for a number of catalytic applications. In particular his group research helped understand the mechanisms of reaction and stability of zeolite catalysts used for the removal of NOx gases from combustion exhaust, developed catalytic materials for the transformation of biomass-derived furans into commodity aromatic molecules such as xylenes and benzoic acid and discovered materials for the selective activation of methane using copper oxide clusters.