Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis
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History of CEBC

In the late 1990's, Prof. Bala Subramaniam, a chemical engineer, and Prof. Daryle Busch, a chemist, discovered that while they each came from very different backgrounds, there was real power in joining forces to tackle some important challenges facing society--including mitigating environmental harm from manufacturing fuels and chemicals.

Chemists and chemical engineers, it turns out, tend to approach problems from very different perspectives.  Building a bridge between disciplines, and universities, was essential for creatively designing novel technologies.

Subramaniam and Busch's multidisciplinary, multi-university partnerships spurred the National Science Foundation to award the University of Kansas it's largest federal grant to date at that time.  In 2003, the $17 million, five-year grant launched the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, or CEBC.  It includes partners at Washington University-St. Louis, University of Iowa and Prairie View A&M University. 

2003 to 2013 - A Successful Decade of Growth and Innovation

10 years of innovationCEBC celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2013. From modest beginnings with a handful of researchers, labs and a single staff member, the CEBC has grown into a thriving center of innovation that now occupies more than 13,000 square feet of research labs and offices in west Lawrence, Kan. Looking back, let's see how the numbers stack up for the first decade.

CEBC achieved remarkable scientific successes as documented in its 195 publications, 35 invention disclosures, and seven issued U.S. patents. A stellar example is the novel one-step spray process for terephthalic acid, a key ingredient in polyester. Inspired by this success, one of the CEBC’s industry partners is collaborating with the center to make a renewable substitute for terephthalic acid, 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid, using this economical spray process.  Other key discoveries are highlighted in this timeline (pdf).

Dozens of dedicated faculty members, more than 60 students, and 30 postdoctoral associates worked to develop resource-efficient technology solutions for the chemical and energy industries.  Several new catalytic materials were discovered, including graphene-supported copper nanocatalysts and metal-incorporated mesoporous solid catalysts. In addition, continuous reactions in gas-expanded liquids and continuous spray oxidation were demonstrated, paving the way for eventual commercialization of cost-effective technologies.

More Competitive Now Than Ever for Federal Grants

Since winning its first National Science Foundation grant, the CEBC continues to compete successfully for federal funding. In 2012, we received $2 million from NSF to purchase a state-of-the-art 3D scanning electron microscope for catalyst and materials research. In 2013, we won our second half-million dollar award from NSF to provide research experiences for high school teachers. Also in 2013, we received a four-year, $4.4 million federal grant as part of the Networks for Sustainable Molecular Design and Synthesis program. which was one of only four such awards made that year by the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.  In all, CEBC researchers garnered more than $16 million in federal research grants from 2009 to 2013.

Poised for Another Successful Decade

Today, the CEBC’s mission is even more relevant given the growing need for sustainable technologies to conserve precious natural resources and energy. More than 20 companies have partnered with CEBC since 2003. Increasingly, companies view sustainability as an essential part of a successful business strategy. The center’s roadmap into the future is well aligned with this strategy for both petrochemical and biomass feedstocks.

As CEBC embarks on its second decade, we remain deeply committed to promoting and facilitating a sustainable chemical industry. Society will benefit for years to come from the achievements of scientists and engineers uniquely trained at CEBC. Undoubtedly, the many successes would not have been possible without the dedication and creativity of the center’s faculty, students, postdocs, and staff as well as support from administrators at the University of Kansas. Sound guidance from industrial and scientific advisors continues to strengthen the center, accelerating discovery and commercialization.

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