The mission of the Center for Catalytic Hydrocarbon Functionalization is to develop, validate, and optimize new methods to rearrange the bonds of hydrocarbons, implement enzymatic strategies into synthetic systems, and design optimal environments for catalysts that can be used to functionalize hydrocarbons, especially for more efficient use of natural gas, including low temperature conversion to liquid fuels.
Vision: Research in the Center for Catalytic Hydrocarbon Functionalization (CCHF) is focused on fundamental advancements in homogeneous and single-site catalysts directed toward the selective low temperature conversion of hydrocarbons, especially the conversion of methane (from natural gas) to liquid that can be used as fuel. In addition, new catalysts for C–H functionalization, especially those based on interfacial catalysis, could be applied to new technologies for low temperature direct methane fuel cells, which offer the opportunity to improve the efficiency of energy generation from natural gas compared to current combustion techniques. Catalyst development that provides the ability to selectively manipulate methane would lead to a profound change in the energy and chemical sectors.
The development of energy resources that provide alternatives to petroleum and coal, including renewable energy resources, is arguably one of the world's most important and demanding challenges. The current high temperature processes that convert hydrocarbons from fossil resources lead to low efficiency, excessive emissions (including carbon dioxide) and a disproportionate dependence on imported petroleum. Despite the desire to transition to renewable and carbon-neutral energy sources, the large-scale utilization of solar-, wind-, geothermal- or biomass-derived energy is likely decades into the future. In the interim, technologies that facilitate the efficient use of natural gas, an abundant domestic resource, would immediately expand non-foreign energy resources for the United States, and provide a cleaner source of energy (cf. petroleum and coal). For more on the potential impact of new catalysts for selective hydrocarbon oxidation, click here
In addition to energy, fossil resources, particularly petroleum, currently provide the feedstocks for production of a wide range of organic chemicals and polymeric materials, including commodity plastics. Development of catalytic processes for efficient low-temperature conversion of methane to methanol would decrease chemical industry dependance on petroleum, as methanol can serve as a precursor for industrial scale synthesis of chemical feedstocks, including ethylene and propylene, two of the major feedstocks for the production of organic chemicals and polymeric materials.
Research in the CCHF addresses challenges outlined in the Department of Energy reports on fundamental research needed to ensure a secure energy future.