sustainable chemistry and processes

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.

Project 1

Renewable chemical and fuels

This project aims to create renewable chemicals and fuels from readily available biomass feedstocks (carbohydrates, lignin, lignocellulose) in state-of-the-art continuous flow reactors. Research will involve the use of high-pressure chemistry (Parr & SPR-16 reactors) and analytical techniques for determination of reaction products and kinetics. Design and synthesis of model compounds will also form a significant part of this project. This project has significant funding through a SIEF grant ( and involves collaboration the CSIRO James Cook University and The School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (USyd).

TECHNIQUES THAT WILL BE LEARNT: high-pressure chemistry, gas chromotogaphy, liquid chromatography, organic synthesis.



Project 2

Aqueous phase reforming

This refers to the conversion of simple sugars to alkanes in water at 250 °C using heterogeneous catalysts. Development of this process, in which cellulosic biomass feedstocks are used, will play an important role in creating valuable chemicals and fuels from non-fossil sources. Currently this approach is the only viable alternative for the replacement of liquid fossil fuels that does not compete with agriculture. A major problem associated with the processing of biomass currently is the presence of low levels of sulfur that poison the catalysts used. Hence, one of the main aims of this project is the development of new catalyst systems that will have enhanced sulfur resistance.

TECHNIQUES THAT WILL BE LEARNT: high-pressure chemistry, gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, organic synthesis, catalyst synthesis, heterogeneous support preparation, N2 sorption, TEM, X-ray diffraction.


Project 3

Ionic liquids as novel reaction media

Ionic liquids are salts that are liquid at room temperature. As they are composed of cations and anions, they have a high degree of organization and their properties are readily manipulated. Projects in this area involve: the synthesis and characterisation of ionic liquids; their use for controlling reaction outcomes (selective product formation, stereochemistry, mechanism); stabilising reactive nanoparticle surfaces for heterogeneous catalysis and nanotechnology applications; as templates for novel materials syntheses; electrochemistry and novel energy storage applications (zinc bromide batteries).

TECHNIQUES THAT WILL BE LEARNT: organic synthesis, high-pressure chemistry (nanoparticle formation), TEM (nanoparticle formation), dynamic light scattering (nanoparticle formation), electrochemistry, Raman spectroscopy (energy storage).



Project 4

Photocatalysis: Hydrogen from water

This process is still a long way from being effective enough to be useful. Here, we aim to prepare new materials based on band-gap engineering of self-assembled nanostructures (to enable them to absorb visible light) to provide better catalysts for this reaction. Our focus lies on TiO2 nanoparticles decorated with the multifunctional nanostructures coupled with reducing ‘sacrificial’ solutions that enhance the thermodynamics of the system. Such solutions are often industrial waste streams. Hence, we aim to simultaneously clean up wastewater whilst generating hydrogen for energy and chemical applications.

TECHNIQUES THAT WILL BE LEARNT: materials synthesis, nanoparticle synthesis, X-ray diffraction and small angle X-ray diffraction, TEM, N2 sorption, gas chromatography, photochemistry.



Project 5

Bolaamphiphilic templates for the preparation of mesoporous materials
The application of bolaamphiphilic (two-headed) surfactants to the templating of micro- and mesoporous silicas has resulted in the formation of novel high-surface area silica materials. By changing the linker length, some control over the morphology of the pore system can be achieved ranging from cylindrical pores with hexagonal order to elliptical pores with rectangular order to disordered spongiform materials. This project will involve the synthesis of a range of bolaamphiphilic templates and their application as templates to the formation of new materials with the aim of gaining insight into the mechanisms responsible for the formation of different phases (e.g., pH, the presence of additives, concentration of template, etc). In addition, the synthesis of ordered silica alumina materials would also be pursued.

TECHNIQUES THAT WILL BE LEARNT: organic synthesis, materials synthesis, X-ray diffraction and small angle X-ray diffraction, TEM, N2 sorption, inductively coupled plasma, Raman spectroscopy.



Project 6

Cascade reactions for the removal of oxygen from bio-oils
This project is aimed at the elucidation of some of the fundamental chemical cascades that exist in the hydrothermal conversion of various organic feedstocks (lignite, biomass and waste materials) to unconventional crude oils. The “upgrading” of non-conventional feeds essentially refers to the oxygen removal, while converting them to liquids and retaining as much hydrogen as possible to produce oils that are entirely fungible with fossil oils. Nickel and iron or ruthenium supported on silica, alumina or alumina-silica will form the principle catalyst families to be prepared and investigated for the key steps in the cascade of the dehydrogenation of alcohols to aldehydes and ketones, and their subsequent deoxygenation to hydrocarbons, using model compounds and mixtures.

TECHNIQUES THAT WILL BE LEARNT: organometallic chemistry, materials synthesis, nanoparticle synthesis, X-ray diffraction and small angle X-ray diffraction, TEM, N2 sorption, gas chromatography, inductively coupled plasma, gas chromatography.




This research group undertakes multidisciplinary research. In addition to the standard (NMR, IR, UV-Vis, mass spectrometry) we routinely use such techniques as:

  • Scanning & Tunneling electron microscopies (SEM and TEM);
  • Gas & High-Pressure Liquid chromatographies (GC and HPLC) with optional MS;
  • X-ray diffraction (XRD) and small angle x-ray diffraction (SAXS);
  • Nitrogen sorption for analysis of porous materials;
  • Electrochemistry;
  • Dynamic light scattering (DLS);
  • Raman Spectroscopy
  • Inductively coupled plasma (ICP).

The research group also has strong collaborative ties with the University of Cambridge, the Institutes of Chemical Technology in Delft (The Netherlands) and Valencia (Spain), Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris VI, Università Ca' Foscari in Venice, Italy (through Cotutelle student exchanges), CSIRO, Australian National University, Monash University, James Cook University, The School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (USyd), BHP-Billiton, Ignite Energy Resources, Licella, MBD, Alpha Chemicals and RedFlow.

For further information, please contact:

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, FAA FSTE

Room 303

School of Chemistry

Eastern Avenue

University of Sydney NSW 2006

Phone: +61 2 9351 2581