Despite decades of research, the utilization of CO2 for commodity chemical and fuel synthesis still faces substantial technological and economic hurdles. To change this paradigm, it is imperative to develop scalable processes to high-volume targets in which the use of CO2 affords a clear chemical advantage over conventional routes starting from fossil fuels. This talk will describe our recent fundamental and applied research toward converting CO2 into oxygenated organic commodities. I will first describe our development of “defect-rich” metallic catalysts for electrochemical CO2 and CO reduction. We have pioneered the use of bulk defects known as grain boundaries to create active surfaces for these reactions and recently unveiled the structural origin of grain boundary–activity relationships. In the second part of my talk, I will describe our development of carbonate-promoted C–H carboxylation reactions to generate (di)-carboxylic acids. We have found systems in which carbonate deprotonates ordinarily non-acidic C–H bonds (pKa>35 in organic solvent), generating carbon-centered nucleophiles that react with CO2 to form C–C bonds. As one application, this chemistry can be used to convert furoic acid, a compound derived from inedible biomass, into furan-2,5-dicarboxylic acid (FDCA), a monomer used for polyester plastic synthesis. The same strategy can be extended to H2, enabling CO2 hydrogenation reactions that produce C2+ oxygenates. This process effectively upgrades the value of H2 and thereby increases the viability of solar water-splitting technologies.
Matt Kanan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stanford University. His research focuses on challenges in heterogeneous and molecular catalysis with an emphasis on developing scalable CO2 utilization technologies. His group has invented “grain-boundary-rich” heterogeneous electro-catalysts for CO2 reduction to liquid fuels and carbonate-promoted C–H carboxylation reactions for commodity carboxylic acid synthesis. Matt was recently named a Dreyfus Environmental Postdoctoral Mentor (2016), one of the Talented 12 by Chemical and Engineering News (2015), and a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2014). Prior to Stanford, Matt was an NIH Postdoctoral Researcher in inorganic chemistry at MIT and completed his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Harvard in 2005. Matt studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Rice University.