Chemist Awarded ACS Petroleum Research Fund Grant

Friday, January 10, 2014

by Amanda Sapio '13

PHILADELPHIA (January 10, 2014) — Peter Graham, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, was recently awarded a $65,000 grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, which supports fossil fuel research at institutions in the United States and other countries. The award will support his research that analyzes methods of developing new catalysts for carbon dioxide utilization.

“Dr. Graham’s work has broad implications because it could help to decrease our reliance on petroleum raw materials while also taking excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” says Mark Forman, Ph.D., chair and professor of chemistry.

To effectively use carbon dioxide in chemical reactions, Graham says its chemical stability must be overcome. “In order to do that, carbon dioxide needs to be ‘activated,’ which requires the use of a catalyst. My work focuses on studying potential catalysts that could be used, such as those containing metals like tungsten and molybdenum,” he explains.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon concentration was relatively constant in the atmosphere, according to Graham. However, as a result of our reliance on fossil fuels, like petroleum and its derivative, gasoline, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have almost doubled. “When we begin using carbon dioxide as a chemical building block, our reliance on petroleum will decrease, and excess carbon dioxide will convert into useful chemicals,” he explains.

Since 2009, Graham has committed each summer to studying carbon dioxide activation, working with undergraduate students in the SJU Summer Scholars Program, who conduct the fundamental research in discovering metal complexes that have the rare ability of binding carbon dioxide. The students present their work at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society each year and publish their findings in Organometallics.

“Many hurdles remain for this research to come to fruition, and it may be some time before true changes occur regarding how we use carbon dioxide,” says Graham. “In the meantime, it’s important for researchers, including me and my students, to gain an understanding of how metal complexes interact with carbon dioxide to help develop new catalysts that will make its utilization possible.” 

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