Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

First Advisor

John M. Vohs


As the global demand for energy continues to rise, the environmental concerns associated with increased fossil fuel consumption have motivated the use of biomass as an alternative, carbon-renewable energy feedstock. Controlling reactive chemistry of the sugars that comprise biomass through the use of catalysis becomes essential in effectively producing green fuels and value-added chemicals. Recent work on biomass conversion catalysts have demonstrated the efficacy of noble metal catalyst systems for the reforming of biomass to hydrogen fuel, and the hydrodeoxygenation of biomass-derived compounds to value-added chemicals. In particular, Pt and Pd surfaces have shown considerable promise as reforming catalysts in preliminary aqueous phase reforming studies. It becomes important to understand the mechanisms by which these molecules react on the catalyst surfaces in order to determine structure-activity relationships and bond scission energetics as to provide a framework for engineering more active and selective catalysts. Fundamental surface science techniques provide the tools to do this; however, work in this field has been so far limited to simple model molecules like ethanol and ethylene glycol. Herein, temperature programmed desorption and high resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy are utilized in an ultra-high vacuum surface science study of the biomass-derived sugar glucose on Pt and Pd single crystal catalysts. Overall, it was determined that the aldehyde function of a ring-open glucose molecule plays an integral part in the initial bonding and reforming reaction pathway, pointing to the use of aldoses glycolaldehyde and glyceraldehyde as the most appropriate model compounds for future studies. Furthermore, the addition of adatom Zn to a Pt(111) surface was found to significantly decrease the C-H and C-C bond scission activity in aldehyde containing compounds, resulting in a preferred deoxygenation pathway in opposition to the decarbonylation pathway common on clean Pt(111). This has implications in the hydrodeoxygenation of biomass-derived compounds for the production of value-added chemicals like 2-methylfuran from furfural, or the catalytic upgrading of sugars. Ultimately, identification of the reactive mechanisms of biomass-derived molecules on different unique surfaces has lead to a greater understanding for what makes a more selective catalyst for specific chemical pathways.

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