Research Mission
Our research focuses on the design of “reactive microenvironments” within heterogeneous catalysis to address critical challenges in sustainable energy and materials. By exploiting structure, surface, and substrate effects, we work to engineer both the active site and the region surrounding it to enable tunable activity and selectivity. In parallel, we investigate unconventional pathways to promote catalytic events by influencing species at catalytic interfaces via confinement, second-sphere interactions, and electric fields. We also investigate the catalytic valorization of complex, sustainable feedstocks. Studying both well-defined models and industrially-relevant substrates, we employ a combination of kinetic measurements, synthetic tools, and reaction engineering to probe relationships between catalyst structure and function, ultimately developing improved routes towards sustainable chemical and materials production.
RESEARCH | Overview | Projects 
Unconventional Promotion of Catalysis with Microenvironment Design
Traditional noble-metal catalysts are often bound by the scaling relations existing between elemental binding energies, ultimately setting an upper limit to performance. Our group studies techniques using unconventional 'handles,' to break away from these scaling relationships by manipulating the microenvironment around the active site. These approaches make use of thorough kinetic understanding and material-synthetic expertise in tandem. Current strategies use electrical polarization to manipulate surface populations (EPOC), structured zeolite pores to manipulate solvent confinement, and the use of promoter compounds to independently influence concurrent catalytic cycles in olefin metathesis.
  • Electrical Promotion of Catalysis
  • Catalytic Promotion via Controlled Solvation
Architecture at the Nanoscale: Designing Tunable Catalysts Using Molecular Engineering Tools
Optimal catalysts feature high activity, selectivity, and stability. Structures with a high degree of tunability allow for precise control of reactivity and the potential to disentangle geometric from electronic or chemical effects. Our group works on using molecular engineering tools to synthesize and characterize nanostructured catalysts. This includes microporous materials (e.g., zeolites and MOFs),  core-shell nanoparticles, and heterometallic oxides, carbides, and nitrides. We elucidate fundamental relationships between structure and function across a variety of reactions, such as methane oxidation, alkene metathesis, ORR, and transfer hydrogenation. . 
  • Microporous Materials
  • Core-Shell Nanoparticle Electrocatalysts
  • Alkene Metathesis
Enabling a Circular Economy by Upcycling Complex, Sustainable Feedstocks
We aim to develop strategies to produce high-value chemicals sustainably from underutilized, 'recalcitrant' feedstocks, such as lignin and plastic waste. These sources are challenging to use due to their inherent physical properties, strong chemical linkages, and complex composition. Our group approaches this challenge from several perspectives, including rigorous kinetic studies linking model systems and real feeds, novel reactor configurations to process solids, liquids, and melts, advanced characterization to analyze complex product distributions, and modeling efforts to demystify complex reaction pathways. 
  • Lignin Valorization
  • Catalytic Plastics Upcycling

© 2011-2020 Román Research Group

Last modified: 08.06.2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Department of Chemical Engineering
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 66-558 | Cambridge, MA 02139 | 617-253-4569