Valorizing Renewable Feedstocks with Sustainable Heterogeneous Catalysis

The goal of the Rorrer lab is to leverage tunable heterogeneous catalytic systems to enable sustainable chemical transformations including the chemical upcycling of waste plastics, and catalytic upgrading of biomass-derived platform molecules. By developing targeted active catalytic sites to enable new chemical transformations and leveraging advanced characterization techniques, we aim to advance the field of renewable and sustainable chemical production, shifting away from fossil fuel consumption and mitigating the detrimental environmental effects of waste plastics.

The vision of the Rorrer Lab is to combine targeted catalyst characterization and rigorous kinetics at the intersection of model and realistic feedstocks to develop tunable earth abundant materials to valorize complex sustainably-derived feedstocks, enabling a circular carbon economy.

Research Themes

Plastics Depolymerization and Upcycling

Single-use plastics are accumulating in landfills and the natural environment at unsustainable rates. Plastic upcycling is a method of creating valuable products from waste plastics. The goal of this research theme is to use chemical catalysis to depolymerize waste polyolefins into liquid alkanes that could be used as fuel, or to replace petroleum-derived sources for the synthesis of new plastics.

Upgrading Renewable Platform Molecules Using Tandem Catalysis

Biomass-derived platform molecules such as alcohols and ketones have the potential to provide a renewable alternative to petroleum-derived products. The aim of this research theme is to develop and investigate processes to convert these platform molecules into useful fuels, lubricants, and specialty chemicals.

Fundamentals of C-C, C-O, and C-X Bond Activation

In order to develop selective and active catalysts and catalytic systems to transform sustainable and renewable feedstocks into valuable products, we must develop a fundamental understanding of the underlying mechanisms and kinetics of the processes. Through a combination of catalyst synthesis and characterization, kinetic probing and microkinetic modeling, and in situ characterization, we aim to develop relationships between catalyst structure and activity to enable selective and active chemistries for plastics depolymerization, biomass upgrading, and other sustainable transformations.


Translating Model Systems to Real Feedstocks

Our approach to tackling the catalytic upgrading of complex feedstocks like mixed plastic waste is to utilize model systems to develop mechanistic insights, which in turn inform the design of selective and active catalysts. These catalysts are then employed for the chemical reactions, and assessed through rigorous product characterization.


Learn more about our work in plastic upcycling from this recorded presentation for the 2020 AIChE national conference.