Research

Conversion of biomass to high-value chemicals

We are working to convert lignocellulosic biomass into value-added chemicals. By careful separation of biomass samples into their cellulosic and lignin components and the catalytic depolymerization of lignin (CDL), we are able to produce many chemicals including monomeric phenolic compounds, as well as many platform chemicals such as furural and polyols, while utilizing cheap, earth-abundant metal catalysts.


Renewable polymers and materials from lignin

Numerous biomass related resources have recently been utilized to replace or supplement the petroleum-based bisphenol A (BPA). Among these feedstocks, lignin is the most reasonable candidate for making thermosetting materials since it is the sole large-volume sustainable source composed of an aromatic skeleton. Our study focuses on the chemical modifications of lignin-derived phenol monomers (LDPMs) and bulk lignin to improve their reactivity and compatibility. Through modifications like demethylation, condensation or oligomerization etc., lignin-derived polyphenols with various aromatic rings and functional hydroxyl groups can be achieved. To explore their potential as precursors to epoxy thermosets, polyphenols are converted to glycidyl ethers and cured with hardeners. Using different modification strategies, thermal and mechanical properties of obtained thermosets can be tuned for a variety of applications.


Highly regioselective olefin oligomerization catalysis

Using quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSARs) relating several group (IV) amine bis(phenolate) catalysts to their olefin polymerization activity, we have identified several catalysts that are highly selective in producing dimers of 1-hexene. These catalyst are additionally selective in producing dimers with vinylidene terminated end groups, making them ideal for further functionalization. Through careful manipulation of monomer feeds and reaction conditions, these catalysts can produce distributions of products useful in the manufacture of jet fuel, synthetic diesel fuel, or synthetic lubricants.


Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences (DOE-BES), Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, and Qatar National Research Fund for financial support.

National Science FoundationMember of Qatar Foundation  Cheveron PhillipsOffice of Basic Energy Sciences                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

U.S. Department of Energy