ChBE Seminar: Catalytic Conversion of Alcohols and Acids Derived from Renewable Biomass

Tuesday, November 2, 2021
11:00 a.m.

Taylor Woehl

Speaker: Robert J. Davis, Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Virginia

Title: Catalytic Conversion of Alcohols and Acids Derived from Renewable Biomass


The economics associated with converting biomass to fuels has not been favorable in recent years, despite many advances in processing technology. The conversion of biomass to higher value molecules associated with the chemical industry is therefore more attractive in the short term. In this talk, the transformations of carbohydrate-derived alcohols and acids via catalytic reactions such as oxidation and reduction will be discussed in light of the various products that can be obtained. A common challenge with the processing of oxygen-containing, biomass-derived molecules is the need to handle them in liquid water, which can affect reaction chemistry and catalyst stability. Indeed, developing new catalytic materials that are tolerant of liquid water is one goal of current research in catalytic conversion of renewable biomass. Discovery of new catalysts that do not require expensive precious metals is another major challenge in this area. Recent work with water-tolerant, earth-abundant materials such as Co and Cu as catalysts for alcohol oxidation will be presented. In addition, the catalytic reduction of polyols and carboxylic acids over metal-promoted, silica-supported ReOx will also be discussed.


Robert Davis obtained his Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University in 1989.  He subsequently worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Chemistry Department at the University of Namur in Belgium.  He joined the faculty in Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia in 1990 and is currently the William Mynn Thornton Professor.  Professor Davis also served as the Chair of Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia from 2002 to 2011.  He received the Wilhelm Award of the AICHE, the Emmett Award of the North American Catalysis Society, the NSF Young Investigator Award, the DuPont Young Professor Award, the Union Carbide Innovation Recognition Award, and the UVA Rodman Scholars Award for Excellence in Teaching. Professor Davis has served as President of the Southeastern Catalysis Society, Chair of the 2006 Gordon Research Conference on Catalysis, Chair of Catalysis Programming of the AIChE, Chair of a US government panel charged with worldwide assessment of Catalysis by Nanostructured Materials, Director of the Catalysis and Reaction Engineering Division of the AIChE, Director of the North American Catalysis Society, Co-Chair of an International Catalysis Workshop in China, member of the Advisory Board of the International Conferences on Solid Acid and Base Catalysis, and member of the editorial boards of Journal of Catalysis, Applied Catalysis A and B, Molecular Catalysis, ChemCatChem and ACS Catalysis.

Audience: Campus 

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