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Heterogeneous Catalysis for Organic Reactions

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This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel

This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel phosphide catalysts. This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

Project 1 Abstract: Ethylene Oxychlorination
The current two-step process for the industrial process of vinyl chloride production involves CuCl2 catalyzed ethylene oxychlorination to ethylene dichloride followed by thermal cracking of the latter to vinyl chloride. To date, no industrial application of a one-step process is available. To close this gap, this work evaluates a wide range of self-prepared supported CeO2 and EuOCl catalysts for one-step production of vinyl chloride from ethylene in a fixed-bed reactor at 623 773 K and 1 bar using feed ratios of C2H4:HCl:O2:Ar:He = 3:3 6:1.5 6:3:82 89.5. Among all studied systems, CeO2/ZrO2 and CeO2/Zeolite MS show the highest activity but suffer from severe combustion of ethylene, forming COx, while 20 wt.% EuOCl/γ-Al2O3 leads to the best vinyl chloride selectivity of 87% at 15.6% C2H4 conversion with complete suppression of CO2 formation and only 4% selectivity to CO conversion for over 100 h on stream. Characterization by XRD and EDX mapping reveals that much of the Eu is present in non-active phases such as Al2Eu or EuAl4, indicating that alternative synthesis methods could be employed to better utilize the metal. A linear relationship between conversion and metal loading is found for this catalyst, indicating that always part of the used Eu is available as EuOCl, while the rest forms inactive europium aluminate species. Zeolite-supported EuOCl slightly outperforms EuOCl/γ Al2O3 in terms of total yield, but is prone to significant coking and is unstable. Even though a lot of Eu seems locked in inactive species on EuOCl/γ Al2O3, these results indicate possible savings of nearly 16,000 USD per kg of catalyst compared to a bulk EuOCl catalyst. These very promising findings constitute a crucial step for process intensification of polyvinyl chloride production and exploring the potential of supported EuOCl catalysts in industrially-relevant reactions.

Project 2 Abstract: Alkyne Semihydrogenation
Despite strongly suffering from poor noble metal utilization and a highly toxic selectivity modifier (Pb), the archetypal catalyst applied for the three-phase alkyne semihydrogenation, the Pb-doped Pd/CaCO3 (Lindlar catalyst), is still being utilized at industrial level. Inspired by the very recent strategies involving the modification of Pd with p-block elements (i.e., S), this work extrapolates the concept by preparing crystalline metal phosphides with controlled stoichiometry. To develop an affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional hydrogenation catalysts, nickel, a metal belonging to the same group as Pd and capable of splitting molecular hydrogen has been selected. Herein, a simple two-step synthesis procedure involving nontoxic precursors was used to synthesize bulk nickel phosphides with different stoichiometries (Ni2P, Ni5P4, and Ni12P5) by controlling the P:Ni ratios. To uncover structural and surface features, this catalyst family is characterized with an array of methods including X-ray diffraction (XRD), 31P magic-angle nuclear magnetic resonance (MAS-NMR) spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Bulk-sensitive techniques prove the successful preparation of pure phases while XPS analysis unravels the facile passivation occurring at the NixPy surface that persists even after reductive treatment. To assess the characteristic surface fingerprints of these materials, Ar sputtering was carried out at different penetration depths, reveling the presence of Ni+ and P-species. Continuous-flow three-phase hydrogenations of short-chain acetylenic compounds display that the oxidized layer covering the surface is reduced under reaction conditions, as evidenced by the induction period before reaching the steady state performance. To assess the impact of the phosphidation treatment on catalytic performance, the catalysts were benchmarked against a commercial Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 sample. While Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 presents very low selectivity to the alkene (the selectivity is about 10% at full conversion) attributed to the well-known tendency of naked nickel nanoparticles to form hydrides, the performance of nickel phosphides is highly selective and independent of P:Ni ratio. In line with previous findings on PdxS, kinetic tests indicate the occurrence of a dual-site mechanism where the alkyne and hydrogen do not compete for the same site.

This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

D. Albani; K. Karajovic; B. Tata; Q. Li; S. Mitchell; N. López; J. Pérez-Ramírez. Ensemble Design in Nickel Phosphide Catalysts for Alkyne Semi-Hydrogenation. ChemCatChem 2019. doi.org/10.1002/cctc.201801430

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2019-05

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Nanostructured Faujasite Zeolites for Carbon Dioxide Adsorption: Adsorption Equilibrium and Dynamics Modeling

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Carbon capture is an essential way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One way to decrease the emissions is through the use of adsorbents such as zeolites. Dr. Dong-Kyun Seo’s group (School of Molecular Sciences, Arizona State University) synthesized the nanostructured

Carbon capture is an essential way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One way to decrease the emissions is through the use of adsorbents such as zeolites. Dr. Dong-Kyun Seo’s group (School of Molecular Sciences, Arizona State University) synthesized the nanostructured faujasite (NaX). The zeolite was characterized using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and the physisorption properties were determined using ASAP 2020. ASAP 2020 tests of the nano-zeolite pellets at 77K in a liquid N2 bath determined the BET surface area of 547.1 m2/mol, T-plot micropore volume of 0.2257 cm3/g, and an adsorption average pore width of 5.9 Å. The adsorption isotherm (equilibrium) of CH4, N2, and CO2 were measured at 25ºC. Adsorption isotherm experiments concluded that the linear isotherm was the best fit for N2, and CH4 and the Sips isotherm was a better fit than the Langmuir and Freundlich isotherm for CO2. At 25ºC and 1 atm the zeolite capacity for CO2 is 4.3339 mmol/g, 0.1948 mmol/g for CH4, and 0.3534 mmol/g for N2. The zeolite has a higher CO2 capacity than the conventional NaX zeolite. Breakthrough experiments were performed in a fixed bed 22in, 0.5 in packing height and width at 1 atm and 298 K with nano-zeolite pellets. The gas chromatographer tested and recorded the data every two minutes with a flow rate of 10 cm3/min for N2 and 10 cm3/min CO2. Breakthrough simulations of the zeolite in a fixed bed adsorber column were conducted on MATLAB utilizing varying pressures, flow rates, and fed ratios of various CO2, N2 and CH4. Simulations using ideal adsorbed solution theory (IAST) calculations determined that the selectivity of CO2 in flue gas (15% CO2 + 85% N2) is 571.79 at 1 MPa, significantly higher than commercial zeolites and literature. The nanostructured faujasite zeolite appears to be a very promising adsorbent for CO2/N2 capture from flue gas and the separation of CO2/N2.

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2018-05

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Styrene Oxide Adsorption on Commercial Resins

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The goals of the styrene oxide adsorption experiments were to develop reliable isotherms of styrene oxide onto Dowex Optipore L-493 resin and onto mesoporous carbon adsorbents, in addition to determining the ideal conditions for styrene oxide production from E. coli.

The goals of the styrene oxide adsorption experiments were to develop reliable isotherms of styrene oxide onto Dowex Optipore L-493 resin and onto mesoporous carbon adsorbents, in addition to determining the ideal conditions for styrene oxide production from E. coli. Adsorption is an effective means of separation used in industry to separate compounds, often organics from air and water. Styrene oxide adsorption runs without E. coli were conducted at concentrations ranging from 0.15 to 3.00 g/L with resin masses ranging from 0.1 to 0.5 g of Dowex Optipore L-493 and 0.5 to 0.75 g of mesoporous carbon adsorbent. Runs were conducted on a shake plate operating at 80 rpm for 24 hours at ambient temperature. Isotherms were developed from the results and then adsorption experiments with E. coli and L-493 were performed. Runs were conducted at glucose concentrations ranging from 20-40 g/L and resin masses of 0.100 g to 0.800 g. Samples were incubated for 72 hours and styrene oxide production was measured using an HPLC device. Specific loading values reached up to 0.356 g/g for runs without E. coli and nearly 0.003 g of styrene oxide was adsorbed by L-493 during runs with E. coli. Styrene oxide production was most effective at low resin masses and medium glucose concentrations when produced by E. coli.

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2014-05

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Arsenic Sorption by Iron Impregnated Biochar

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Much of Nepal lacks access to clean drinking water, and many water sources are contaminated with arsenic at concentrations above both World Health Organization and local Nepalese guidelines. While many water treatment technologies exist, it is necessary to identify those

Much of Nepal lacks access to clean drinking water, and many water sources are contaminated with arsenic at concentrations above both World Health Organization and local Nepalese guidelines. While many water treatment technologies exist, it is necessary to identify those that are easily implementable in developing areas. One simple treatment that has gained popularity is biochar—a porous, carbon-based substance produced through pyrolysis of biomass in an oxygen-free environment. Arizona State University’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) has partnered with communities in Nepal in an attempt to increase biochar production in the area, as it has several valuable applications including water treatment. Biochar’s arsenic adsorption capability will be investigated in this project with the goal of using the biochar that Nepalese communities produce to remove water contaminants. It has been found in scientific literature that biochar is effective in removing heavy metal contaminants from water with the addition of iron through surface activation. Thus, the specific goal of this research was to compare the arsenic adsorption disparity between raw biochar and iron-impregnated biochar. It was hypothesized that after numerous bed volumes pass through a water treatment column, iron from the source water will accumulate on the surface of raw biochar, mimicking the intentionally iron-impregnated biochar and further increasing contaminant uptake. It is thus an additional goal of this project to compare biochar loaded with iron through an iron-spiked water column and biochar impregnated with iron through surface oxidation. For this investigation, the biochar was crushed and sieved to a size between 90 and 100 micrometers. Two samples were prepared: raw biochar and oxidized biochar. The oxidized biochar was impregnated with iron through surface oxidation with potassium permanganate and iron loading. Then, X-ray fluorescence was used to compare the composition of the oxidized biochar with its raw counterpart, indicating approximately 0.5% iron in the raw and 1% iron in the oxidized biochar. The biochar samples were then added to batches of arsenic-spiked water at iron to arsenic concentration ratios of 20 mg/L:1 mg/L and 50 mg/L:1 mg/L to determine adsorption efficiency. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis indicated an 86% removal of arsenic using a 50:1 ratio of iron to arsenic (1.25 g biochar required in 40 mL solution), and 75% removal with a 20:1 ratio (0.5 g biochar required in 40 mL solution). Additional samples were then inserted into a column process apparatus for further adsorption analysis. Again, ICP-MS analysis was performed and the results showed that while both raw and treated biochars were capable of adsorbing arsenic, they were exhausted after less than 70 bed volumes (234 mL), with raw biochar lasting 60 bed volumes (201 mL) and oxidized about 70 bed volumes (234 mL). Further research should be conducted to investigate more affordable and less laboratory-intensive processes to prepare biochar for water treatment.

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2021-05

Strategies for Recovery of Biosynthetic Styrene

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Styrene, a component of many rubber products, is currently synthesized from petroleum in a highly energy-intensive process. The Nielsen Laboratory at Arizona State has demonstrated a biochemical pathway by which E. coli can be engineered to produce styrene from the

Styrene, a component of many rubber products, is currently synthesized from petroleum in a highly energy-intensive process. The Nielsen Laboratory at Arizona State has demonstrated a biochemical pathway by which E. coli can be engineered to produce styrene from the amino acid phenylalanine, which E. coli naturally synthesizes from glucose. However, styrene becomes toxic to E. coli above concentrations of 300 mg/L, severely limiting the large-scale applicability of the pathway. Thus, styrene must somehow be continuously removed from the system to facilitate higher yields and for the purposes of scale-up. The separation methods of pervaporation and solvent extraction were investigated to this end. Furthermore, the styrene pathway was extended by one step to produce styrene oxide, which is less volatile than styrene and theoretically simpler to recover. Adsorption of styrene oxide using the hydrophobic resin L-493 was attempted in order to improve the yield of styrene oxide and to provide additional proof of concept that the flux through the styrene pathway can be increased. The maximum styrene titer achieved was 1.2 g/L using the method of solvent extraction, but this yield was only possible when additional phenylalanine was supplemented to the system.

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2013-05

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Investigating AlPO-5 Zeolite Substitutions for Temperature-Selective Separation of Air Components

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Utilizing DFT calculations, various substitutions on the AlPO-5 zeolite were screened for adsorption of common air molecules. Furthermore, free energy analyses using the Helmholtz free energy equation were performed to determine candidates for selective adsorption of one specific air molecule,

Utilizing DFT calculations, various substitutions on the AlPO-5 zeolite were screened for adsorption of common air molecules. Furthermore, free energy analyses using the Helmholtz free energy equation were performed to determine candidates for selective adsorption of one specific air molecule, and their operating temperature range. Through this study, it was found that Cerium- (92-542 K), Germanium- (69-370 K), Chromium- (35-293 K), and Praseodymium- (0-420 K) substituted AlPO-5 selectively adsorbs to O2 molecules for the given temperature ranges. In addition, Palladium-substituted AlPO-5 selectively adsorbs to CO within 430-755 K.

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2022-05