A study of heterogeneous solid acid catalysts—seen as a promising avenue toward cleaner, cheaper chemicals and fuels—uses innovative molecular spectroscopy approaches

“Industry often uses homogeneous systems that can require co-catalysts or liquid acids to carry out the reaction, and those can result in problems like acid gas emissions, separation issues, and entrainment of acids in the end product, which can lead to equipment damage,” says Erin Sobchinsky, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “One solution is to use heterogeneous solid acid catalysts. They don’t have to be separated from the final product, and they greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the emission of acid gases, which are harmful to the environment."

The catalyst her team is examining— nickel sulfated zirconia, in which nickel and sulfate are impregnated on a zirconia support—is relatively understudied, says Sobchinsky, who is advised by Israel E. Wachs, Lehigh’s G. Whitney Snyder Endowed Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Wachs is the director of Lehigh’s Operando Molecular Spectroscopy and Catalysis Research Laboratory and the principal investigator on the project. The research approach they are taking is a novel one.

Learn more about this innovation in engineering curriculum in "A 'solid' approach to shale gas ethylene conversion" from Lehigh's Resolve magazine, Volume 2, 2021.