Navigation Links
Iowa State, Ames Lab researcher hunts for green catalysts

AMES, Iowa L. Keith Woo is searching for cleaner, greener chemical reactions.

Woo, an Iowa State University professor of chemistry and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, has studied catalysts and the chemical reactions they affect for more than 25 years. And these days, his focus is on green catalysis.

That, he said, is the search for catalysts that lead to more efficient chemical reactions. That could mean they promote reactions at lower pressures and temperatures. Or it could mean they promote reactions that create less waste. Or it could mean finding safer, cleaner alternatives to toxic or hazardous conditions, such as using water in place of organic solvents.

"We're trying to design, discover and optimize materials that will produce chemical reactions in a way that the energy barrier is lowered," Woo said. "We're doing fundamental, basic catalytic work."

And much of that work is inspired by biology.

In one project, Woo and his research group are studying how iron porphyrins (the heme in the hemoglobin of red blood cells) can be used for various catalytic applications. Iron porphyrins are the active sites in a variety of the enzymes that create reactions and processes within a cell. Most of the iron porphyrin reactions involve oxidation and electron transfer reactions.

Because the iron porphyrins of biology have evolved into highly specialized catalysts, Woo and his research group are studying how they can be used synthetically with the goal of developing catalysts that influence a broader range of reactions.

"We've found porphyrins are capable of doing many reactions often as well, or better, or cheaper than other catalysts," Woo said.

Another project is using combinatorial techniques to accelerate the development, production and optimization of catalysts. Woo and his research group are using molecular biology to quickly screen a massive library of DNA molecules for catalyst identification and development. The goal is to create water-soluble catalysts for organic reactions.

"Combinatorial approaches such as these have been applied to drug design, but their use in transition metal catalyst development is in its infancy," Woo wrote in a summary of the project.

A third project is looking for catalysts that allow greener production of lactams, which are compounds used in the production of solvents, nylons and other polymers. Commercial lactam production traditionally uses harsh reagents and conditions, such as sulfuric acid and high temperatures, and also creates significant wastes.

Woo, in collaboration with Robert Angelici, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, has found a gold-based catalyst that eliminates the need for the acid and high pressure and also eliminates the wastes. The Iowa State Research Foundation Inc. is seeking a patent on the technology.

And, in a fourth project, Woo is working to understand the chemistry behind the chemical reactions that create bio-oil from the fast pyrolysis of biomass. Fast pyrolysis quickly heats biomass (such as corn stalks and leaves) in the absence of oxygen to produce a liquid bio-oil that can be used to manufacture fuels and chemicals.

Woo's projects are supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, Iowa State's Institute for Physical Research and Technology, Iowa State's Bioeconomy Institute, and the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals based at Iowa State. Woo's research team includes post-doctoral researcher Wenya Lu and doctoral students B.J. Anding, Taiwo Dairo, Erik Klobukowski and Gina Roberts.

Sit down with Woo and he'll call up slide after slide of the chemical equations that describe chemical reactions.

And before long he's describing how catalysts are discovered these days.

"The traditional way to develop catalysts was very Edisonian one experiment at a time," Woo said. "It was all by trial and error."

Now, with high-throughput approaches, Woo said his research group is able to quickly test a reaction using one hundred trillion different catalysts.

And that, Woo said, is "helping us find less expensive and more environmentally friendly materials and conditions to perform these catalytic reactions."


Contact: L. Keith Woo
Iowa State University

Related biology news :

1. New Report Just Published: World Solid-State, Fiber, Gas and Dye Lasers Market Report
2. Iowa State, Ames Lab chemists discover how antiviral drugs bind to and block flu virus
3. Discovery at JGH opens door to new treatments for prostate, brain and skin cancers
4. Iowa State, Ames Lab researchers identify structure that allows bacteria to resist drugs
5. Montana State, partners in 6 states consider converting invasive plants to fuel
6. Iowa State, USDA researchers discover eye test for neurological diseases in livestock
7. Iowa State, Ames Lab researcher develops new way to study single biological molecules
8. AAAS honors Iowa State, Ames Lab researchers for distinguished science
9. Iowa State, Ames Lab researchers describe the pump that bacteria use to resist drugs
10. Wistar Institute researcher receives New Innovator award from NIH
11. NC State researchers get to root of parasite genome
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Iowa State, Ames Lab researcher hunts for green catalysts
(Date:11/17/2015)... EASTON, Mass. , Nov. 17, 2015 ... a leader in the development and sale of broadly ... the worldwide life sciences industry, today announced it has ... of its $5 million Private Placement (the "Offering"), increasing ... to $4,025,000.  One or more additional closings are expected ...
(Date:11/12/2015)... BOSTON , Nov. 12, 2015  A golden ... for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) has provided a new ... Boston Children,s Hospital, the Broad Institute of MIT and ... Brazil . Cell, ... some dogs "escape" the disease,s effects. The Boston Children,s ...
(Date:11/12/2015)... , Nov. 11, 2015   Growing ... reliable analytical tools has been paving the way ... qualitative determination of discrete analytes in clinical, agricultural, ... are being predominantly used in medical applications, however, ... environmental sectors due to continuous emphasis on improving ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/23/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 Women with a certain type ... face a higher risk of lung cancer than men with ... week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of ... --> --> Lung nodules are small ... solid or subsolid based on their appearance on CT. Solid ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... 2015 China Cord Blood Corporation (NYSE: ... of cord blood collection, laboratory testing, hematopoietic stem cell ... preliminary unaudited financial results for the second quarter and ... 2015. --> --> ... for the second quarter of fiscal 2016 increased by ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... Church, VA (PRWEB) , ... November 23, 2015 , ... ... Ellen McCarthy , former Director, Plans and Programs, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), has ... to us with an incredibly distinguished career in the intelligence community and the private ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... and PISCATAWAY, New Jersey ... Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC) announces the ... Structural Database (CSD) and the CSD-System, now complemented ... worldwide: CSD-Discovery to support the discovery of new ... and CSD-Enterprise, the complete set of the CCDC,s ...
Breaking Biology Technology: