Building the Road to Sustainable Energy
Catalysis science advances can help build the road to sustainable energy through improved fossil fuel utilization, effective on-board hydrogen storage, and the development of next-generation biofuels. Central to the research program of Dr. R. Tom Baker, Canada Research Chair in Catalysis Science for Energy Applications, are new tandem catalysis processes contributing to these three areas of energy research.
Baker will investigate new catalysts that can be designed and developed to enable chemical reactions with reduced energy input and waste production. Application of state-of-the-art catalysis science to low temperature conversion of biomass-derived carbohydrates to diesel fuels, for example, will supplement the need for fossil fuels to move goods and people by land and air.
In addition to its heavy output of carbon dioxide, combustion of carbon-based fuels produces oxides of nitrogen and sulphur and small carbon particulates, all of which are harmful to humans. In contrast, burning hydrogen in a fuel cell produces only power and water, but improved on-board storage is required to avoid the need for frequent refuelling. Baker’s research on high-capacity amine-borane storage materials seeks to identify new catalysts that maximize the rate and extent of hydrogen release.
Improved fossil fuel utilization through tandem catalysis will extend the lifetime of Canada’s oil and gas resources and reduce emissions at existing oil refineries and gas flares. Effective hydrogen storage will benefit vehicles ranging from farm tractors to long-haul cargo trucks, and the development of new biofuel processes could offer increased economic activity at all stages of the value chain.