About the Project
Catalysts are substances that can speed up chemical reactions and/or increase reaction selectivity without consuming themselves. Relative to non-catalytic processes, catalysed reactions perform through more energy efficient routes, in which reactants are able to be used more efficiently. Heterogeneous catalysis is predominantly used in industry, whereby the catalyst is usually a solid and the reactive fluid is a liquid, a gas or a mixture of the two. In such processes, reactant molecules diffuse within the pore structure, adsorb onto the surface, react to form products, which then desorb and diffuse back out of the catalyst. Traditionally, 3-dimensional porous materials, with large surface areas to ensure that the reaction proceeds as fast as possible, have been used as catalysts and found applications in many chemical processes of industrial relevance, nowadays routinely used.
In this project, it is proposed to exploit 2-dimensional layered catalysts in catalytic organic synthesis for the production of fine chemicals, which are key-compounds in the food and pharmaceutical sectors. These materials have very high surface areas hence they have huge potential to increase efficiency in catalytic processes. Preliminary studies have suggested the potential of such processes to be performed using Graphene Oxide (GO). In the project, the focus will be on using GO, reduced Graphene Oxide (rGO) as well as more recently developed 2-dimensional materials, such as molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) and other chalcogenides, as starting materials for the preparation of novel catalysts able to perform organic Claisen–Schmidt coupling reactions, which find applications in the production of pharmaceuticals, oxidation of alcohols and polyols, often used as renewable substrates for production of value-added chemicals, as well as hydrogenation of unsaturated aldehydes, which finds applications in the specialty and aroma chemical industry.
Those catalysts will be obtained by tailoring the surface chemistry of the 2-dimensional layered materials with acids, bases and alkyl groups. This is expected to change significantly acidity as well as hydrophobicity of the surface, which is also expected to affect significantly those reactions involving water as product or intermediate. Reusability of such novel materials, important for evaluating practical applications, will also be tested. The project will be of experimental nature and will involve synthesis of 2-dimensional catalytic materials and advanced characterisation using surface-sensitive spectroscopic tools (XPS, Raman, infrared and AFM), testing in lab-scale chemical reactors as well as novel applications of low-field, bench-top Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) techniques (spectroscopy, diffusion and relaxation) to unravel unexplored aspects of the behaviour of reactive fluids over 2-dimensional material surfaces, including adsorption, diffusion and molecular dynamics at the surface.
The project will be jointly supervised by Dr Carmine D’Agostino (CEAS) and Prof. Rahul Raveendran Nair (CEAS and National Graphene Institute).