CH4 (and other light alkanes in Natural Gas), N2, O2, H2O and CO2 are among the most abundant raw materials on Earth. Chemical reactions of these small molecules generate most of the world’s energy, emissions and materials. However, in spite of a century of research, current technologies still operate at higher costs, generate substantially more emissions and lead to greater dependence on petroleum than required. At the foundation of these inefficiencies is the high strength of the bonds in all of the small molecules. In spite of intensive effort over more than 50 years, failure to develop chemistry to controllably make and break these bonds has led to the unfortunate assignment of these small molecule challenges as “Holy Grails” in chemistry.
The focus of our research is to overcome these challenges through the design of next generation catalysts for the direct, selective, conversion of these molecules. One particular emphasis continues to be the design of systems that will enable the direct conversion of alkanes to fuels and chemicals at lower temperatures. This could replace or augment the use of petroleum with cleaner, more abundant Natural Gas as a transition to a cleaner future. Our approach is based on the rational, de novo design of molecular (s-called homogeneous or single-site) catalysts through an iterative process involving conceptual design, computational study, synthesis, characterization and study of reaction chemistry and mechanisms. Our research interests include the design of catalysts for: CH hydroxylation; CH aminations, N2 fixation, O2 activation and CO2 reduction.