HKPCL at Washington University in St. Louis

Welcome to the HKPCL's home on the web


Who we are

We are the Heterogeneous Kinetics and Particle Chemistry Laboratory (HKPCL). Located in Urbauer Hall 222, we are a part of the Department of Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering. Professors John Gleaves and Gregroy Yablonsky direct the activities of our three graduate students and several undergraduate students.

What we do

We are interested in the application of kinetic investigations to catalysts. Catalysts are materials that alter the rate of a chemical reaction without being appreciably consumed in a reaction cycle. We investigate both real and model catalyst systems using a battery of analytical techniques.

The HKPCL is home to the Temporal Analysis of Products (TAP) reactor system. Invented by Prof. Gleaves, the system allows very precise measurements of catalyst kinetic characteristics. The TAP system has been successfully applied to many important catalyst systems, including Vanadium Phosphorus Oxide (VPO), traditional noble metals (platinum, palladium, etc.),and supported metal nanoparticles.

To supplement the TAP reactor, we have also developed an atom deposition system. Using focused laser light, we can ablate metals and deposit the resulting shower of atoms and clusters on a support material. By studying the catalyst activity in relation to the degree of alteration of the catalyst, we can study the effects of catalyst surface composition on activity.

Why we do it

Catalysts are fundamental to many of the important chemical reactions undertaken in industry. Future problems concerning environmental friendliness, alternative fuel sources, and bulk chemical production will rely in part on catalysts to provide technically and economically feasible solutions. Advancing the experimental and theoretical horizons of catalyst investigation techniques will provide us with the tools necessary to tackle these issues.

The Heterogeneous Kinetics & Particle Chemistry Laboratory aims to use a combination of novel atomic scale catalytic construction techniques combined with the Temporal Analysis of Products Reactor System to develop multi-step heterogeneous catalysts. We use laser technology to create plumes of atom clusters that can be deposited in precise amounts on inert supports. In this fashion, complex catalysts comprised of transition metals can be created. Further, we can analyze these catalysts using a non-steady-state microsecond pulse reactor.

Controlling chemical reactions is the province of catalysis. Efficient large-scale production of chemicals and fuels is the domain of heterogeneous catalytic processing, and multiphase reaction engineering. Modern catalytic processing requires complex catalytic materials and sophisticated catalytic reactors. Our program is focused on combining catalysis and reaction engineering to develop energy efficient, zero waste processes for the production of fuels and chemicals.

Worldwide, the petroleum based process industry has an annual production value exceeding 4 trillion dollars. Currently, 75% of all chemicals are produced with the aid of catalysts, over 90% of newly developed processes involve catalysis, and over 95% of industrial reactors are heterogeneous. Catalysts are required for nearly all biological reactions, and catalysis is also the key technology in environmental protection. Well-known examples are the catalytic converter for automobiles, and catalytic NOx reduction in power plants. Current world oil consumption is 80 million barrels a day, and at this rate the proven world oil reserves will be depleted in 40 years. Today's consumption rate is more than 8 times the 1950 rate, and is expected to grow to at least a 120 million barrels a day by 2025. As oil reserves decline, the demand for oil will exceed the rate of production. By 2050 it is projected that the world population will reach 9 to 10 billion, and current reserves of both oil and natural gas will be exhausted.

How to supply the vast quantities of fuels and chemicals when oil is no longer readily available is one of the most challenging and important problems now facing humanity. An essential requirement for the switch from petroleum to coal, gas or renewable sources is heterogeneous catalysts that can selectively perform multi-step reactions using small carbon molecules (C1s, C2s, and C3s). However, the history of catalyst development indicates that new highly selective catalysts will not be easily discovered.

How to reach us

Phone: (314) 935-4367

Mailing Address:

Heterogeneous Kinetics and Particle Chemistry Lab
Campus Box 1198
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130







Washington University

Dept. of Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering

School of Engineering and Applied Science

WUSTL Homepage


Last update: Oct. 19, 2006