By Anna Zarra Aldrich, Office of the Vice President for Research

Altug Poyraz, left, a graduate student, with Steven Suib, distinguished professor and director of chemistry on Jan. 9, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn chemistry professor Steven Suib has been granted a US patent for a new method developed with his former student, Altug S. Poyraz, now an inorganic chemistry professor at Kennesaw State University. The technology is capable of synthesizing and customizing a type of compound that has unique catalytic and electronic properties.

Suib and Poyraz have patented their process for synthesizing thermally stable mesoporous transitional metal oxides. Their process also allows them to control the size of the mesopores and nano-sized crystalline walls.

Mesoporous materials have many advantages when it comes to developing materials for practical applications. They have narrow pores with a high surface area, biocompatibility, and low toxicity for use in human medical practices. They can be used for drug delivery systems, as catalysts for chemical reactions, electrodes in electrochemical energy storage for batteries, and supercapacitors, diagnostics, absorbing pollutants from water or storing gases and chromatography.

“We believe that this method is quite generic, so it can be used to generate many different families of materials with extensive compositions and structures,” says Suib.

For decades, scientists have been searching for a way to create these valuable porous metal oxides. All previous attempts to synthesize later transition metals have been unsuccessful. Poyraz and Suib’s process frees itself from dependence on indirect parameters like heat and condensation which caused the failure of other attempts.

This process not only allows for the possible synthesis of numerous previously unavailable mesoporous metal oxides, but will allows scientists to manipulate certain properties to tailor these metal oxides for specific applications.

The tunable pore size enabled by this process will be greatly beneficial to these molecules’ use in catalyzing reactions, say the inventors. It will allow for applicability for size-selective reactions (i.e. size- selective oxidation of alcohols) and greater mobility of ions in batteries and other similar applications. Sample synthetic applications of these catalysts include efficient conversion of benzyl alcohol to benzylaldehyde which is an almond like flavoring for foods and is also safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products. They are also versatile enough to convert sugars derived from biomass into more high value products like methylevulinate.

This new method also allows scientists to control the crystal structure of the compounds. Different oxide crystal structures of the same transition metal lend themselves to different uses as they produce different optic, magnetic, and catalytic properties.

Suib received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He currently serves as the director of the Institute of Material Sciences at UConn. His research focuses on the synthesis of environmentally friendly materials and characterizing their properties, the synthesis, characterization, and catalytic studies of porous transition metal oxide materials, redox catalytic cycles and using microwave heating to make novel nano-sized particles and drive catalytic reactions.

Poyraz received his Ph.D. from UConn in 2014 where he worked with Suib as a graduate student researcher. He worked at the Brookhaven National Laboratory as a research associate until 2017 when he joined Kennesaw State University as an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry. His current research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of nanocrystalline mesoporous materials for aqueous energy storage devices.