Acoustic Wave Enhanced Catalysis

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Pasadena, California
Project Term:
03/09/2015 - 09/30/2017

Critical Need:

Many chemical conversions require very high temperatures and pressures, which constrain the scale and efficiency of these processes. New approaches for chemical conversions can enable reduced-scale production plants to better exploit renewable resources, and can reduce the energy intensity and emissions for the production of liquid fuels and chemicals from both conventional and unconventional domestic resources. One such approach is to enhance catalytic reactions by manipulating interactions between the catalyst surface and the substrate molecules. For example, acoustic waves have been shown to enhance reactivity on some catalyst surfaces. However, there is not yet any mechanistic framework for guiding the use of acoustic waves in catalysts.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) team is using first-principles reasoning (i.e. a mode of examination that begins with the most basic physical principles related to an issue and “builds up” from there) and advanced computational modeling to ascertain the underlying mechanisms that cause acoustic waves to affect catalytic reaction pathways. The team will first focus their efforts on two types of reactions for which there is strong experimental evidence that acoustic waves can enhance catalytic activity: Carbon Monoxide (CO) oxidation, and Ethanol decomposition. Armed with this new understanding, the team will suggest promising applications for acoustic wave enhanced catalysis to new reactions with large energy and emissions footprints, such as ammonia synthesis. As an ARPA-E IDEAS project, this research is at a very early stage. However, this novel approach to acoustic wave enhanced catalysis has the potential to improve energy and resource efficiency across broad swathes of the chemical, industrial, and other sectors of the economy.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Patrick McGrath
Project Contact:
William Goddard
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