UNH, Yale researchers develop economic, green catalytic process

By University of New Haven | November 17, 2015

Researchers at the University of New Haven and Yale University have discovered a high-quality catalytic process for converting biomass model compounds, which can be used to convert biomass into value-added chemicals, such as biofuels, while minimizing the environmental impact and boosting sustainability.

“Some are concerned that you have to make sacrifices in quality to be green,” says Dequan Xiao, an assistant professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of New Haven. “But we have discovered a high-quality catalytic process for converting biomass model compounds that is economical and green.”

The researchers reported their findings in a research communication, “Highly Selective Hydrogenation and Hydrogenolysis Using A Copper Doped Porous Metal Oxide Catalyst,” published in the journal, Green Chemistry.

“We discovered that earth-abundant metals based catalysts can be highly selective for the conversion of biomass model compounds,” Xiao explained. “And we question the principle of theoretical and computational chemistry to provide insights in understanding the phenomenon.”

In addition to Xiao, other members of the research group included Paul T. Anastas, professor and director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale; Raphael Gagne a UNH undergraduate student; Laurene Petitjean, a Yale graduate student; and Evan Beach, a postdoctoral student at Yale.

In their paper, the researchers noted that sustainability has emerged as a global concern and has prompted chemists to develop procedures that minimize impact on the environment. Their work focused on non-food biomass, the material derived from green plants and other living organisms, and biorefining, the process of converting biomass into useable chemical products.

Biomass is viewed as a renewable resource that has the potential to meet the energy and chemical needs of society, while minimizing environmental impact and increasing sustainability.

“In summary, we have developed a very selective method for hydrogenolysis of benzyl ketones and aldehydes as a greener alternative to Wolff-Kishner and Clemmensen conditions or noble-metal catalyzed reductions. Additionally, our method allows selective reductions of alkenes,” the paper states.

Xiao established the Laboratory for Integrative Materials Discovery (the IMD Lab) at UNH in 2013 after completing his postdoctoral research at Yale University. He then formed the collaboration of designing optimal green catalysts for biomass conversion with Anastas, a national leader in green chemistry who formulated the 12 principles of green chemistry, a set of basic concepts to achieve sustainability in the production of chemicals and materials.

The research was supported with funds provided by the University of New Haven and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 the university enrolls approximately 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates.