RICHLAND, Wash. Scientists can learn how advances in catalysis are addressing real-world energy problems and expanding research horizons at an upcoming symposium at the 236th American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia, Penn. The scientific community is honoring the contributions of the late Mike White at the symposium, which will be held from August 19-21.
"Catalysis is particularly important when it comes to energy supply," said PNNL chemist Daniel DuBois. "Mike was very aware of and concerned about the big energy problem, and the role of catalysis in the solution."
Catalysts are substances that facilitate chemical reactions but are not changed by them. Catalysts change the rate at which chemical bonds are formed and broken. Researchers can use catalysts to control the rates of chemical reactions, increasing the amounts of desirable products and reducing the amounts of undesirable ones. As a result, understanding how catalysts work is important to many industrial processes including petroleum refining and production of various chemicals.
"This symposium is our way of honoring Mike and the impact he had on our personal and professional lives," said Mike Henderson, lead organizer of the symposium who studied under White and worked with him at PNNL's Institute for Interfacial Catalysis http://iic.pnl.gov/.
One way PNNL scientists are harnessing the power of catalysis is through hydrogen oxidation and production, two processes necessary for fuel cells to function. So far, however, such chemical conversions are expensive, requiring the precious metal platinum. DuBois is exploring how to design alternative catalysts that use inexpensive metals such as nickel and cobalt.
"We are working to find cheaper ways to make these processes happen," said DuBois. "In order to maximize catalyst performance, we have to understand how the process works."
White, a Robert A. Welch Cha
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DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory