Dr. Marimuthu Andiappan, an assistant professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at OSU, has received a career award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research on carbon-carbon and carbon-nitrogen cross-coupling reactions.
These types of reactions are prevalent in chemical and pharmaceutical industries for making conjugated polymers, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, such as Tylenol and ibuprofen; however, current technology and industry processes use expensive palladium-based catalysts and require high-temperature and/or high pressure reaction conditions to produce the intended results. These processes also produce a large amount of waste before the end product is yielded, to the measure of 25 to 100 kilograms of waste for every one kilogram of product yielded.
Andiappan and his team’s focus is three-pronged: replace the expensive palladium catalysts with inexpensive, Earth-abundant copper or iron based photocatalysts, as a result of using new photocatalysts, the reactions would not require the high heat or atmospheric pressure conditions and would rely on simple LED lights producing visible light, and finally the use of these heterogeneous photocatalysts would allow the reaction and procurement of the product to take place in a single, flow reactor chamber and would render the current downstream processes used to separate the product from the catalyst unnecessary.
“The three steps in this proposal would allow us to minimize or avoid the carbon footprint of these critical processes and also reduce the costs associated with these processes,” Andiappan said. “Eventually, we hope that these processes will become net carbon zero processes.”
These reactions rely heavily on the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources for heating and achieving high reaction temperatures to yield the important end products. However, proposed changes would allow engineers to carry out these reactions using the electrical grid already in place, and which is beginning to explore alternate energy sources, such as wind or solar energy.
“Efforts like this proposal will allow us to develop these new technologies and processes at the requisite pace, so that we can develop a workforce that is prepared for the transition to a heavier reliance on renewable and sustainable energy sources,” Andiappan said.
The processes that are currently used in industry are the same processes that have been used for decades and continue to be taught in classrooms to future engineers and scientists. As part of his award, Andiappan hopes to change that by integrating his research into the curriculum at OSU via a new elective course for students in CEAT and other interested departments across campus.
“If we were to integrate a new course focused on these new processes and technologies into our curriculum, OSU students would graduate with a more competitive and well-rounded skill set than perhaps a student from a different university,” Andiappan said. “That way we can supply more skilled engineers and scientists for the state of Oklahoma and the entire U.S.”
As he and his team embark on the next steps in their research, he reflects on the milestone of receiving an NSF career award.
“It’s an amazing recognition to receive. It is an amazing feeling to have our research recognized by our peers and national agencies like the National Science Foundation,” Andiappan said. “It has provided a lot of confidence to me and my students to move forward and continue this amazing research.”