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National Science Foundation grant funds closer look at catalytic processes

Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017


MANHATTAN — Ongoing work to promote renewable energy has earned two Kansas State University professors a National Science Foundation Chemical Catalysis Program grant of $450,000 over the next three years. The grant will support experimental and computational research directed toward fundamental understanding of the chemistry of catalytic processes.

Principal investigator Keith Hohn, the William H. Honstead professor in chemical engineering, and Daniel Higgins, professor and department head of chemistry, received the award for their project, "SusChEM: Single Molecule Studies of Aldol Condensation on Heterogeneous Catalysts."

Converting biomass resources to fuels provides a way to renewably meet society's growing energy demands. However, compounds typically extracted from biomass are different from hydrocarbon fuels. Biomass-derived compounds are more often smaller, necessitating catalytic reactions to build larger molecules.

Hohn and Higgins are studying one such reaction, aldol condensation, to understand which catalytic properties are best. They are observing a light-emitting reaction occurring on a catalyst film with different catalyst properties at different locations. Noting which parts of the film give off the brightest light will provide information on what types of catalytic sites are most active.

"This research will provide an understanding of the catalytic properties that are best for aldol condensation," Hohn said. "In particular, it will make clearer the importance of acid strength, base strength and proximity of acid and base sites on aldol condensation activity."

By conducting cutting-edge research related to sustainable energy, their project will advance the research mission of the College of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences, and Kansas State University, helping to meet university and college goals toward K-State 2025.


Keith Hohn


Chemical engineering



Download the following photo.

Keith Hohn

Keith Hohn, William H. Honstead professor of chemical engineering at Kansas State University.

Download the following photo.

Daniel Higgins

Daniel Higgins, professor and head of the chemistry department at Kansas State University.

Written by

Mary Rankin