As drivers, we often think about the safety of our roads. But what about the safety of our engines?
Protecting engines starts with refining the petroleum we put into them.
Dr. Fei Wang, assistant professor of chemistry, studies how to effectively treat petroleum using a mix of metals.
Wang recently received a three-year grant from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund to aid in his research.
About his research
Hydrogen and carbon are the main components of petroleum. Together, they form hydrocarbons.
Hydrocarbons that lack single bonds, called unsaturated, are more reactive.
More reactions can lead to negative consequences for the engines that use petroleum.
Unsaturated hydrocarbons can be present in petroleum fuels. These include gasoline, kerosene and diesel.
“Their presence can cause gum-formation and harm engines,“ Wang said.
Unsaturated hydrocarbons can transform into harmless saturated hydrocarbons.
This occurs when they react with hydrogen through a process called hydrogenation.
But it requires the application of efficient catalysts to help the hydrogenation reactions.
Wang aims to use intermetallic compounds, which form between base metals, as the needed catalysts.
He credits the idea to Dr. Bryan Breyfogle, department head of chemistry.
“We will create a new direction of interdisciplinary research between inorganic material chemistry and organic chemistry,” Wang said.
Much of hydrogenation catalysts today are platinum-based.
While platinum is efficient, the precious metal is also expensive.
Wang explores how replacing platinum with base metal intermetallic compounds could offer a much lower cost.
“We attempt to make something as efficient as platinum,” Wang said. “If successful, we will be able to develop much cheaper substitutes and greatly lower the cost of petroleum products.”
Investing in students
The grant will provide $70,000 in total to support Wang’s research over the three-year period.
More than $11,000 per year will pay for undergraduate and graduate student researchers.
“With this support, we will be able to encourage more students — especially those at the undergraduate level — to take part in research,” Wang said.