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  • Resnick postdoc Sonja Francis (right) and graduate student Dan Torelli conducting experiments to test the activity of their recently reported nickel-gallium catalyst for carbon dioxide conversion to hydrocarbons.
    Credit: Bob Paz for the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis/Caltech
04/22/2016 15:13:25

Resnick Sustainability Institute Boosts Caltech's Earth Day Celebration

The Resnick Sustainability Institute—Caltech's hub for projects aimed at tackling some of the toughest sustainability-focused problems our society faces—played a key role in Caltech's Earth Week celebration, during which various events were held to show support for environmental protection and achieving a sustainable future.

For example, on April 19, Resnick fellow Bryan Hunter gave a talk on "The 21st Century Solar Army," which focused on his volunteer work with Caltech's NSF Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels. Among CCI Solar's volunteers are Resnick postdoctoral scholars Bradley Brennan and Sonja Francis, whose efforts have included working with school teachers to show them how to build and test simple and cheap solar cells; the teachers then take these activities back to their classrooms.

The Resnick Sustainability Institute's 17 graduate student fellows and 10 postdoctoral scholars are actively engaged in research involving everything from solar fuels and photovoltaics to improved catalysts for greener industrial processes, carbon capture and storage, greenhouse gas assessment, wastewater treatment, and more.

Recently, postdoctoral scholar Christopher Prier and his colleagues in Frances Arnold's laboratory described a method for the synthesis of valuable amines using engineered variants of cytochrome P450, a common iron-containing enzyme, in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Because enzymatic processes are typically environmentally benign, Prier notes, his work contributes to the greening of chemical synthesis.

Francis and colleagues described in the journal ACS Catalysis a new catalyst made of two metals, nickel and gallium, which can be used for converting carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbons like methane, ethane, and ethylene. Currently, no electro-catalyst exists that can convert carbon dioxide with both high efficiency and selectivity to hydrocarbons or even alcohols, Francis notes.

Additionally, in an upcoming issue, the Journal of the American Chemical Society will spotlight an improved catalyst for sustainable fertilizer production developed by Resnick fellow Niklas Thompson and others from Resnick Institute director Jonas Peters' research group. This same research also won the 2016 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award at Caltech.

Learn more about the Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltech at http://resnick.caltech.edu.