Prof. Ahmad Zuhairi Abdullah
Prof. Ahmad Zuhairi Abdullah
Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
Title: Novel Mesoporous Catalysts for Glycerol Conversion to Value-Added Chemicals Towards More Sustainable Oleochemical Industry
Glycerol is a simple polyol that is excessively produced as a by-product in oleochemical and biodiesel industries to cause a sharp drop in its price. Future scenarios for worldwide glycerol market will mostly be related to the supply and demand of glycerol and its application in other non-traditional downstream industries. Due to the unique structure of glycerol, properties and renewability feature of it, new opportunities for the transformation of glycerol into high-valued chemicals have emerged in recent years. Glycerol has been demonstrated to be transformed through novel catalytic processes into oxygenated biocomponents as alternatives to conventional petroleum-derived fuel additives. Oxygenate additives could assist in octane rating increment and combustion quality that reduce particulate emission and carbon monoxide production. Various types of oxygenated biocomponents have been developed and rigorous studies of glycerol transformation into fuel additives through catalytic etherification, acetylation and acetalation processes have been conducted. Success in these green conversions depends very much on the use of the right catalytic materials with the desired properties and optimized process conditions to selectively produce the desired substances. Mesoporosity is among the key issues due to the high viscosity liquid reactant. Access to active sites located on the internal surface will be influenced by internal diffusion rate. Catalytic etherification of glycerol to polyglycerols is another option to add value to glycerol. Polyglycerols are biodegradable and biocompatible products that can be used in various industries. Biocompatibility is an attractive feature of aliphatic polyether structures containing hydroxyl end-groups, including polyglycerols or linear polyethylene glycerols (PEGs). Glycerol can also be reacted with fatty acids to form monoglycerides that will find wide application in food and pharmaceutical industries. Production of lactic acid through alkali-catalyzed reactions should also be ventured into as the product may serve as a starting point for a wide range of future biobased chemicals by catalytic routes. Catalytic deoxydehydration of glycerol to acrylic acid also provides vast opportunity for downstream industry due to high demand for the product as the principal raw materials for the manufacture of various polymeric products. The main concerns are always to find the right type of stable catalyst with high activity and selectivity to the desired compounds. Current research focus in these areas circulates around novel catalysts to improve conversions while showing high yield of the desired product. Technical hurdles, opportunities and critical technical aspects in the catalytic process will be reviewed.
Professor Dr Ahmad Zuhairi Abdullah is currently the Deputy Dean (Research, Postgraduate & Network) at School of Chemical Engineering, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He received his PhD from Universiti Sains Malaysia in PhD (2004) in the field of chemical engineering. His research works mostly encompass the use of novel functionalized nanoporous materials as catalysts in oleochemical conversions, waste treatment, green technology and production of renewable energy sources. He is among the pioneer researchers in the world to focus on the use of ultrasound to accelerate heterogeneous catalytic processes. He is the recipient of several innovation and publication awards based on his research works. His research expertise is often sought after for the assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports on proposed strategic commercial projects such as oil refinery, petrochemical complex, sanitary landfill, smelting plant, used acid lead battery, paper mill etc. Various industrial problems have been successfully solved through his consultancy projects. He has been involved in the propagation of science and technology through more than 200 refereed publications in journals and book chapters mainly as the main author, and also involves as a technical committee member to nearly 100 international scientific conferences held across the globe. Many invitations on various roles have also been received to share his research experience with government officers, research scientists, junior researchers and school children. The objectives of the events vary from the latest development in nanoporous materials research, critical research skills, understanding science, promotion of sustainability, community awareness, carrier development to the understanding of policy and regulatory aspects. He is an academic external assessor to UniMAP and UniKL-MICET for their undergraduate and doctoral program, respectively. He also acts as an article reviewer to more than 100 different leading international journals in his area of expertise. In addition, he is an evaluator to research proposals received from the university, local ministries as well as international scientific associations in the USA, Oman, Qatar and Chile. He is one of the recipients of the Top Research Scientist Malaysia 2014 award. His h-index (Scopus) currently stands at 39.