LAWRENCE — Juan Bravo-Suarez, University of Kansas assistant professor of chemical & petroleum engineering, was awarded a prestigious Doctoral New Investigator grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.
The two-year, $110,000 award seeks to reveal the mysteries behind an industrial process for making propylene, one of the most versatile building blocks in chemical manufacturing. Many consumer goods, such as plastics, fuels, cosmetics and detergents, get their start from propylene.
Propylene is made with the help of catalysts, substances that trigger molecules to break apart and reform into other molecules.
At KU, Bravo-Suarez will be well-equipped to peek inside the inner workings of catalysts. Armed with infrared, Raman and UV-visible spectroscopic equipment, his team will look at catalysts in action, just as ethylene and butane molecules are transformed into propylene in a process called metathesis.
“Knowing how catalysts work will help us design more efficient catalysts and cheaper ways to make propylene,” said Bravo-Suarez. “It will also help us to find new and better ways to produce more with less.”
The research will be conducted at KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC), which partners with industry to invent cleaner, safer, energy-efficient technologies that protect the planet and human health.
Bravo-Suarez, a native of Colombia, has been an assistant professor at KU since 2014. He obtained his doctorate at the Industrial University of Santander in Bucaramanga, Colombia, in collaboration with Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.