New Pathways for Energy Research

Screenshot of Dion Vlachos speaking during the 2020 virtual symposium

New Pathways for Energy Research

UD-led catalysis center hosts virtual 2020 symposium

On Friday, April 24, the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI) held its annual Spring Symposium to discuss research findings for developing a range of new catalysts that will convert inedible biomass—things like wood, switchgrass and other organic waste—into sugars and oils that can be used in fuels and chemicals. Nearly 100 graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty representing ten universities and one national laboratory from around the U.S. tuned in to the event virtually.

The CCEI community is no stranger to online meetings, and has adapted easily to the shift away from their usual in-person event.

“There were excellent talks and a lot of synergy among projects that make CCEI very integrated,” said Dion Vlachos, CCEI director and the Allan and Myra Ferguson Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “The meeting went very well overall, no glitches of any sort.”

As one of the nation’s first Energy Frontier Research Centers, CCEI has made major discoveries in new catalysts and the underlying chemistry to accelerate the process of transforming inedible biomass into renewable products. The UD-led center has introduced new pathways to produce the building blocks for renewable car tires, rubber and adhesives, and has also introduced new lubricant and surfactant products that possess superior properties compared to their crude oil counterpart.

This year’s one-day virtual gathering, consisting of multiple presentations, Q&A sessions, and an advisory board meeting, allowed for a more intimate feel.

“It almost felt like the presenter is giving the talk just to you, which allows you to connect better,” said Natalia Rodriguez Quiroz, UD doctoral candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Jiayi Fu, a UD doctoral candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering, capitalized on Zoom’s chat feature during the Q&A sessions. “The problem with the Q&A session is that there is always a time limit,” Fu said. “Zoom allows us to discuss additional topics even after the Q&A session.”

A workshop on Spectroscopy and Machine Learning, originally planned for the symposium, was offered online by Anatoly Frenkel, Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University.

Overall the event was deemed a success, according to Angela Norton, a UD doctoral candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering. “As you sometimes hear in show business, the show must go on” she said. “And that is exactly what CCEI did!”

The CCEI community is looking forward to next year when hopefully, everyone will be able to meet again in person.