Assistant Professor Wei Fan of the Chemical Engineering Department has been selected to receive the prestigious 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award from 3M Corporation. The Award recognizes “outstanding new faculty who were selected based on their research, experience, and academic leadership. The purpose of the award is to help the young faculty members achieve tenure, remain in their teaching position, and conduct research.” Fan is a young leader in the field of engineering porous materials as catalysts and carriers for biorefinery and drug delivery. His research group focuses on the rational synthesis and characterization of nanoporous materials based on the comprehensive understanding of their crystallization mechanism.
One of Fan's current research projects focuses on synthesizing a new class of catalysts for the catalytic conversion of renewable biomass which can be termed "hierarchical zeolite catalysts with tunable mesopore and micropore structure" (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja2046815 and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1387181113003466). The mesopore structure (2 nm to 5 nm) provides a “highway” network for fast molecular transport to reaction sites located within micropores (< 1 nm), called “street.”
As Fan notes, “From our new synthesis approach, named ‘confined synthesis,’ for the first time we demonstrated that the structure of mesoporous and microporous structure of hierarchical zeolites catalysts can be rationally controlled. Our recent studies (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/la403706r) discovered that molecular transport in the new catalysts is 1000 times faster than in conventional catalysts. The catalysts could potentially improve the catalytic efficiency for the conversion of biomass into fuels and chemicals in a large extent and provide cheap and sustainable energy solutions.”
Another project in the group focuses on the rational design of nanostructure of porous catalysts for producing commodity chemicals from renewable source. Consumers already know the plastics made from this new process by the triangular recycling label “#1” on plastic containers. p-Xylene is used to produce a plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is currently used in many products including soda bottles, food packaging, synthetic fibers for clothing, and even automotive parts.
By collaboration with Paul Dauenhauer’s group in the ChE department, says Fan, “We discovered a new reaction pathway to produce the important chemical from renewable resource. It is found that the nanostructure of the catalyst plays a critical role for the reaction. By engineering the catalysts, we have been able to improve the yield of p-xylene to 90 percent, dramatically improving the economic potential of the overall process to make green chemicals (http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/gc/c3gc40740c#!divAbstract).”
Fan earned his B.S. at the University of Science and Technology of China in 2000, his
M.S. at the University of Tokyo in 2004, and his Ph.D. at the University of Tokyo in 2007. Fan worked as post-doc at the University of Minnesota before moving to UMass.
“I am very excited about receiving the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award,” he says. “It will help us continuously purse outstanding research in the area of renewable energy and health care.” (April 2014)