Gas flare in North Dakota's Bakken Shale. Chemical conversion of these currently wasted resources would allow them to be utilized as a chemical feedstock or fuel. (Credit: Aeon.)


Dr. David C. Powers, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been recognized with a 2018 United States Department of Energy Early Career Research Award for his achievements and future potential in developing sustainable chemical synthesis.

Powers, whose research focuses on developing new catalysts to address unsolved problems in chemical synthesis and energy conversion, is one of two Texas A&M faculty (along with the Department of Aerospace Engineering's Dr. Ken Hara) and 84 scientists nationwide -- six total in the state of Texas -- selected to receive funding under the DOE's Early Career Research Program. The effort, now in its ninth year, is designed to strengthen the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the early years of their careers -- a critical stage with great impact on a scientist's later work.

"Supporting talented researchers early in their career is key to building and maintaining a skilled and effective scientific workforce for the nation," said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. "By investing in the next generation of scientific researchers, we are supporting lifelong discovery science to fuel the nation's innovation system. We are proud of the accomplishments these young scientists have already made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come."

Eligible researchers must be untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professors at U.S. academic institutions or full-time employees at DOE national laboratories with a Ph.D. earned within the past 10 years. Their research topics also must fall within the scope of the Department's Office of Science's six major program offices: advanced scientific computing research; basic energy sciences; biological and environmental research; fusion energy sciences; high energy physics or nuclear physics.

Powers was awarded a total of $750,000 over five years by the DOE's Office of Basic Energy Sciences for his proposal, "Templating Lattice-Confined Catalysts for Selective Hydrocarbon Upgrading." His proposal was selected from a large pool of university- and national laboratory-based applicants through peer review by outside scientific experts.

Powers joined the Texas A&M Chemistry faculty in 2015 after obtaining his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Harvard University in 2011 and completing a four-year National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Research Service Award (NRSA) Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. His research program is based on synthetic organic and inorganic chemistry with an emphasis on developing reaction chemistry for sustainable synthesis. Last June, he was honored as one of 37 national recipients of the 2017 Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award that has helped him establish a valuable new collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Spallation Neutron Source.

"I am delighted that Dave has received this award recognizing the tremendous potential of his work using the porous architecture of metal-organic frameworks as a platform for catalytic conversion of hydrocarbons through reactions which are extremely challenging to perform in the solution phase," said Dr. Simon W. North, professor and head of Texas A&M Chemistry.

Powers' DOE proposal deals with the byproducts of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which has substantially increased the domestic supply of natural gas but simultaneously created numerous environmental challenges due to insufficient processing infrastructure, the implicit challenge of long-range transportation of gaseous hydrocarbons and the relative carbon-hydrogen bond strengths of hydrocarbons that render selective hydrocarbon oxidation a serious chemical challenge. To avoid direct atmospheric release of light hydrocarbons, which are more potent greenhouse gases than CO2, Powers notes these resources are often burned in extraction-site flares, rather than converted to more valuable chemical feedstocks for more efficient uses. His project will develop new synthetic methods to provide atomistic control over the active sites in porous heterogeneous catalysts and will develop new analytical tools to characterize the reactive intermediates involved in hydrocarbon functionalization.

"My students and I are involved in developing both new catalysts and new tools to understand the fundamental behaviors of those catalysts in an effort to develop the chemistry necessary to convert light hydrocarbons to more valuable chemical materials, for example, for use as chemical fuels for feedstocks," Powers said. "Our research efforts combine tools that have traditionally been the purview of either the homogeneous or heterogeneous catalysis communities to provide insights into how to rationally understand and develop new materials for important chemical conversions. We are grateful for this award, which will support our efforts toward these goals."

For more information on the U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Research Program and to see a complete list of current award winners and their abstracts, visit http://science.energy.gov/early-career/.

To learn more about Powers and his research, go to http://www.chem.tamu.edu/faculty/david-powers/.

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About the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science: The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information please visit science.energy.gov.

About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to scholarship and discovery, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $905.4 million in fiscal year 2017. Texas A&M ranked in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation's Higher Education Research and Development survey (2016), based on expenditures of more than $892.7 million in fiscal year 2016. Texas A&M's research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu/.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. David C. Powers, (979) 862-3089 or david.powers@chem.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. David C. Powers

  • The Powers Research Group (Credit: David Powers.)

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