Professor Thomas Maschmeyer - RESEARCH

Contact Details

ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Chemistry
Room 303
School of Chemistry, Building F11
The University of Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia
T: +61 (2) 9351-2581
F: +61 (2) 9351-3329

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The group aims to enhance sustainability by generating and using new fundamental insights on the molecular and nanoscopic level to develop feasible leads for the design of new catalytic chemical routes and processes.

Some examples of our lines of research are given below.

Renewable Chemicals and Fuels:

We are modeling the processing of carbohydrates, lignins and lignocellulosic biomass in batch and soon state-of-the-art continuous flow reactors (in a joint effort with Prof. Brian Haynes at Chemical Engineering). Sophisticated physical techniques are used to identify reaction products and obtain reaction kinetics. Design and synthesis of model compounds plays a significant part of the projects. Some of the questions we want to answer are:

  • Can we influence carbohydrate decomposition pathways in water such that the onset of decarboxylation (the main pathway for biomass de-oxygenation) can be clearly delineated?

  • What are the linkages in lignin that are most susceptible to hydrolysis in super-critical water? Can we predict whether certain biomass feedstocks are better or worse suited to hydrothermal upgrading?

  • Is it possible to achieve hydrogen transfer and subsequent de-oxygenation via in-situ generated formates?

Aqueous Phase Reforming:

Recently, Dumesic reported a most unusual observation – the generation of alkanes from sugar in water. The micro-kinetics of this extremely complex reaction system are increasingly well understood. However, the catalysts used function well only in the absence of sulphur. Imparting sulphur resistance while maintaining catalytic performance is the key target of our work. Our main approach is via the synthesis of multimetallic nanoparticles in which various catalytic properties can be tuned. Success would allow ordinary cellulosic materials to be turned into alkanes in water in one step. Activities in this area involve inorganic synthesis and characterisation as well as catalytic testing and sophisticated analyses by gas chromatographic and mass-spec techniques.

Ionic Liquids as Novel Synthesis Media:

Ionic liquids are experiencing boom-times – why? Increasingly it is becoming clear that this most versatile group of liquids has very special properties that are most likely rooted deeply in their ‘saltiness’, i.e. their large degree of organisation, even in the liquid state.

Projects in this area involve the synthesis and characterisation of ionic liquids as well as the evaluation of chemical selectivity that can be imparted by them onto various chemical conversions. Some of the questions we are trying to answer are:

  • Can we delineate a relationship between observed changes in reactivity and presumed structural features of ionic liquids?

  • What are the key structural features that have the most impact?

  • Can we design ionic liquid systems for particular conversions?

Photocatalysis: Hydrogen from Water:

Although this reaction has been proven to work – it is still as long way from being effective enough to be useful. Here, we aim are preparing new materials, based on the band-gap engineering of self-assembled nanostructures to provide better catalysts for this reaction. Our focus lies on dispersed, TiO2-stabilised exotic multicomponent nanoparticles and coupling these to reducing ‘sacrificial’ solutions that enhance the thermodynamics of the system. Such solutions can be readily found in the environment where they often present problems. Our approach yields hydrogen from water using sunlight and as a ‘spin-off’ improves the water quality by oxidising smelly and toxic species such as sulphides. Projects in this area involve inorganic synthesis, catalytic testing and characterisation of solids (diffraction techniques, electron microscopy, etc.).