Tao Chen, a graduate student at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, won the best research presentation award at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Catalysis Society of Metropolitan New York. The conference was hosted by the ExxonMobil Research Center in Clinton, NJ, in March 2017. The conference was attended by researchers from academia and from industrial companies from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Research in catalytic materials and catalytic reactions is important in a wide range of industries: from oil and gas processing, to production of plastics, pharmaceuticals, electronics and numerous other commodity and specialty chemicals.
Forty-eight graduate students presented results from their current research projects at the conference. The students were from the following universities: Princeton University, Columbia University, City College of New York, State University of New York Stony Brook, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey (New Brunswick), New Jersey Institute of Technology, Lehigh University and University of Delaware. Out of all of these research presentations, the presentation entitled "Adsorption of Aromatic Molecules on Palladium Catalysts" by Tao Chen was judged to be the best.
Tao Chen conducted his studies on catalytic metal nanoparticles in Prof. Simon Podkolzin’s research group. In his research, Tao Chen combined experimental studies in materials science, chemical engineering and nanotechnology with computational studies using quantum-chemical calculations based on density functional theory. His research identified trends for adsorption of aromatic hydrocarbons (molecules that have at least one benzene ring) on catalytic palladium nanoparticles. The results show how the structure of a hydrocarbon molecule affects its adsorption sites, geometries and energies. These results are readily extendable to other catalytic metal nanoparticles, for example platinum and bimetallic surfaces, and are helpful in determining improved catalyst formulations and optimized reaction conditions.
Tao Chen and his advisor, Prof. Simon Podkolzin, are preparing several scientific publications. In addition, Prof. Podkolzin is working on finalizing two patent applications for improved catalyst formulations that allow to conduct hydrogenation reactions of aromatic hydrocarbons more efficiently: with higher rates and higher selectivities to desired partially or fully hydrogenated products. The fundamental scientific results and the inventions of improved catalysts will be useful in the production of better quality (higher cetane numbers) and cleaner burning diesel fuels and more thermally stable and cleaner burning jet fuels (improved smoke points). The invented improved catalysts will also be useful in the production of specialty chemicals, for example in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical and fragrance products.