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Wei Fan Works on Research Team Developing Pioneering Catalysts for Producing Carbon-neutral Biofuels

Wei Fan

Wei Fan

Wei Fan, a professor in the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department and the Edward S. Price Faculty Fellow in Chemical Engineering, is a co-principal investigator on a groundbreaking research team investigating new ways to fabricate nanoporous zeolite crystals with targeted defect patterns, which hold great promise as catalysts for carbon-neutral biofuels and capturing carbon dioxide. The research, headed by Professor Scott Auerbach of the UMass Amherst Chemistry Department, recently received renewed funding by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE). See Inside UMass story: UMass Researchers Renew Department of Energy Funding to Study Faster Fabrication of Nanoporous Materials.

The Inside UMass story said that Zeolites are solid materials with regular arrays of nanometer-sized cavities, making them the most-used synthetic catalysts on the planet – widely utilized for petrochemical refining and holding promise for making clean fuels from biomass and for capturing carbon dioxide in zeolite cavities.

As Fan said about the renewed grant support, “This Department of Energy grant allows us to examine the new synthesis pathway for a wide range of different zeolite [catalyst] architectures and to probe with atomic detail why this new pathway is faster….”

Fan heads the ChE’s Porous Materials Research Group, which “focuses on the rational synthesis of nanoporous materials for biorefinery and drug delivery.” In the group’s research, the pore structure and size, surface properties, and active sites are tailored based on the comprehensive understanding of their crystallization mechanism.

As Auerbach told Inside UMass about the DoE-supported research project, “This research into how zeolite crystals form is critical for learning how to make the materials of the future for combatting climate change – targeted structures to revolutionize the sustainable production of both chemicals and fuels.”

Auerbach added that “The problem is that new zeolite architectures and chemical compositions are needed to reach the efficiencies required for broad adoption of these sustainable processes. To make these new zeolites we need better understanding about how zeolite crystals form in the first place – that’s the focus of this project.”

Inside UMass said that the team’s new research builds from previous work that integrates zeolite synthesis experiments with computer simulations to generate atom-by-atom understanding of the zeolite formation process – from disordered precursors to ordered crystals.

As Inside UMass explained, “In previous research, the team discovered a new pathway for making zeolites that both accelerates crystal formation and imparts targeted structural defects into the final material, making it better suited for processing biomass.” (October 2022)

 
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