Homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis are fields that have been historically separated. Poly(styrenesulfonic acid) (PSSA) combines the advantages of both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. PSSA is soluble in polar solvents; therefore, all acidic groups are readily accessible. In addition, the catalyst cannot be deactivated through coking because there is no surface for the carbonaceous species to be deposited. At the same time, PSSA, due to its high molecular weight, can be easily recovered by ultrafiltration for further utilization. PSSA has shown promising activity in reactions that require Brønsted acid sites, such as the hydrolysis of PET, dehydration of xylose to furfural, or biodiesel production from vegetable oils. We have recently added a second functionality to this polymer catalyst by the incorporation of AlCl3, and this led to a soluble and reusable catalyst with both Brønsted and Lewis acid sites (PSSA-AlCl3). This superacid catalyst was able to catalyze all the reactions involved in the one-pot synthesis of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) from glucose and directly from starch. HMF is a valuable platform chemical, and there is an enormous market for some of its derivatives, such as furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and adipic acid. This talk will also address the synthesis of inverse metal oxide-metal catalysts for the hydrogenation of CO2 and the addition of a sorbent component for the development of dual-function materials (CO2 capture & conversion). This one-pot approach could eliminate current energy-intensive and corrosive CO2 capture and storage processes while producing important commodity chemicals and fuels.
Dr. Ana C. Alba-Rubio is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Toledo. She received her B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Malaga, Spain, in 2007. She then moved to the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry (CSIC) in Madrid, Spain, to pursue her doctoral studies under the supervision of Dr. Manuel López Granados. As a doctoral student, she enjoyed two research stays in Brazil and the Netherlands. After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Alba-Rubio joined the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to conduct postdoctoral research with Prof. James Dumesic and Prof. Manos Mavrikakis. She focused on the controlled synthesis of metal, bimetallic, and bifunctional catalysts for reactions of interest in biomass conversion and the direct synthesis of H2O2. In 2015, she joined the University of Toledo as a faculty, and her current research interests involve the rational design and synthesis of heterogeneous catalysts to provide fuels and materials sustainably and the development of nanomaterials for sensing applications. Dr. Alba-Rubio holds a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation studying the development of dual-function materials for CO2 capture and conversion, the 2019 UToledo College of Engineering Excellence in Supervision of Undergraduate Research Award, and the 2018 UToledo Outstanding Scholarly and Creative Activity Award. She was also named to the 2020 Class of Influential Researchers by the Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research journal and recognized as one of the 2021 Nanoscale Emerging Investigators. She currently serves as a director of the AIChE Catalysis and Reaction Engineering Division (CRE).