Since many chemical reactions of interest do not occur spontaneously at reasonably low temperatures they often require a catalyst to accelerate the rate of the reaction. A heterogeneous catalyst performs this task by facilitating the adsorption and reaction of molecules on active sites located at the fluid-solid interface. These active sites provide access to new reaction pathways that may otherwise be inaccessible via thermal or homogeneous routes as shown below.
Discoveries of new catalysts enabled the creation of many important technologies during the 20th century. Processes such as ammonia synthesis for fertilizer, fluidized catalytic cracking for high-octane gasoline, olefin polymerization for plastics and elastomers, and three-way catalytic converters for automotive emissions control all have made very large, positive impacts on society and would not have been possible without catalysts. Our ability to effectively use heterogeneous catalysts for future applications of national interest, such as energy, consumer goods, and infrastructure, requires both the controlled design of catalysts at the molecular level and the development of new, catalytic routes to efficiently produce high-value chemical products and fuels from carbon-containing natural resources with reduced environmental impact.
The Cybulskis Research Group focuses on identifying important chemical reactions that are inherently non-selective, understanding the kinetics and mechanisms of these reactions as they occur on a molecular scale, and developing tailor-made catalytic materials to open new reaction pathways and enhance product selectivity.