Cal Poly Pomona Professor Receives $240,000 NSF Grant For Work in Green Chemistry
Pomona, CA – Cal Poly Pomona Assistant Professor Alex John has received a $240,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to continue work that could lead to a viable, biomass based alternative to petroleum products.
John and the students in his lab are developing catalysts for the deoxy-dehydration reaction that’s necessary to turn bio materials into platform chemicals that can serve as the building blocks of many useful chemicals. So far, the catalysts required to turn plant-based material into petrochemicals have been too expensive to make the process viable on a large scale.
“The results of the lab’s preliminary work showed that the students were capable of undertaking such research,” said John. “It helped us get the grant.” The grant is titled “Evaluation of Ligand Effects in Molybdenum Catalyzed Deoxydehydration Reaction.”
Rhenium is a common metal catalyst for the type of reaction that’s needed but it’s rarer than Molybdenum and 100 times more expensive. John’s group is studying the use of ligands in molybdenum catalysis. The ligands bind to the metal and allow scientists more control over the chemical environment while the reaction is taking place. The goal is a better understanding of this process which can increase efficiency and allow production to scale to a level that would make it a viable alternative to petroleum products.
The beauty of using biofuels is not only that it is sustainable because scientists can grow more fuel, it also means that the source (plants) will consume the carbon dioxide that burning fuel produces and replace it with oxygen while producing more biomass, said John.
There are nine undergrads and two graduate students conducting research alongside John in his lab. Undergrad Christine Navarro said, “The idea of green chemistry really appealed to me. I knew I wanted to do research that makes the world a better place or helps people.” Navarro plans to work in cancer research in graduate school.
“It wasn’t until I got this research experience that I became excited about the field because it gave meaning to what I was learning in the classroom,” undergrad Timothy Siu said. “Through research I applied the knowledge I gained in class and I’m gaining real-world experience through hands-on learning that is transferrable to industry.
Both Siu and Navarro plan to pursue their Ph.D. Siu said, “I will start my Ph.D. program in September at UC Riverside. The research experience I got here was critical to me getting accepted.”