Northwestern University’s Institute for Catalysis in Energy Processes (ICEP) has received a renewal from the U.S. Department of Energy for $4.2 million over the next three years. As part of the Center for Catalysis and Surface Science, ICEP’s goals are to understand at the molecular level, catalytic transformations relevant to clean energy harvesting, storage, and utilization, and to further the discovery and development of highly efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable catalytic processes.
“ICEP is an integral part of energy research efforts at Northwestern,” said Peter Stair, Director of ICEP. “The University has been a world leader in catalysis since the 1930s, so this grant is supporting an important historical effort.”
One of ICEP’s most important research goals is to address the central issue of inhomogeneity on catalyst surfaces. All catalysts have multiple active sites on their surfaces which activate feedstock molecules to ultimately cause chemical reactions. However, only certain active sites create pathways to desired reaction products. Understanding-based control of this selectivity is a central ICEP goal which will lead to cleaner, more energy-efficient catalysis.
The new funding enables ICEP to be organized into three highly integrated, multi-PI Thrust teams focused on the creation, characterization, and understanding of new kinds of catalysts with higher surface homogeneity and reaction selectivity.
Laurence Marks, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, will head the research thrust investigating metal-oxide interactions. The vision is to design a metal‑oxide nanoparticle system in which the active sites and interactions with their environment are deliberately controlled. This research could lead to new, more efficient catalytic structures.
Justin Notestein, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, will lead the second research thrust with an aim to control the chemistry of active oxygen molecules on oxide catalyst surfaces by controlling the active sites. Oxide catalysts are critically important for fuels conversion, emissions control, and in the industrial production of commodity and fine chemicals.
Finally, Harold Kung, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, will lead the third research thrust focused on manipulation of catalytic environments. Drawing on insights from thrusts one and two, this research team will focus collaboratively on new catalytic structures and ideas about tuning the surroundings of a catalytic active site for more active, selective, and robust catalysts.
The Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN) will provide continuing support for ICEP. “ICEP represents a major research effort that enables a significant part of ISEN’s mission,” said Kenneth Poeppelmeier, Charles E. & Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry and the Director of the Center for Catalysis and Surface Science. “ISEN will be an important partner in telling the story of ICEP’s research.”
As ICEP continues its work, new opportunities will arise to work across institutions and engage other universities and laboratories. “A new partnership is with Ames Laboratory at Iowa State,” said Stair. “They have powerful analytical instruments. That’s just one example where collaboration could grow.
The expansion and integration of catalysis research within ICEP promises to keep Northwestern at the forefront of this technology, which is critical for sustainability and energy.”