Developing a faster, cleaner, cheaper chemical reaction

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On August 4, 2020

Line art icons of a beaker, magnifying glass, and dna structure

A group of S&T researchers has developed a way for chemists to perform the combined reaction-separation process in chemical reactions without using metals or solvents.

Manufacturers convert substances such as carbon dioxide or biomass into more usable forms through reactive chemistry, often using expensive metal catalysts such as gold or palladium. Reclaiming those catalysts for reuse can be difficult as well as labor- and energy-intensive, especially when the catalyst and reaction agent are homogeneous: both liquids, for example. The expense of precious metals makes catalyst reclamation even more important.

By using hollow composite polymer fibers with organic linkers such as toluene as a binding agent, the researchers immobilized the catalyst on the surface of the fibers while the reaction product flowed through the hollow tube. The process allows chemists to more easily reclaim the catalyst.

The researchers used a continuous operation, adding chemicals at different points along a system. That allows for quicker heating and a faster reaction rate — seconds or minutes as opposed to the hours needed for batch reactions.

“Think of it as making coffee,” says Ali Rownaghi, an assistant teaching professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at Missouri S&T and a member of the research team. “You can brew a big pot of coffee, but think how much easier it would be to add together water and coffee along a tube and dispense a cup at the end.”

The pharmaceutical manufacturing aspect of the research supports the University of Missouri System’s investment in research as part of the NextGen Precision Health Initiative and Institute. 

Working with Rownaghi at S&T are assistant professor Fateme Rezaei and graduate students Abdo-Alslam Alwakwak, Yingxin He, Ahmed Almuslem and Matthew Senter, all in chemical and biochemical engineering.

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On August 4, 2020. Posted in 2020, Around the Puck, Research, Summer 2020