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Sankar Meenakshisundaram

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Favourite Thing: The best thing about being a scientist is to think differently. We try to understand how things work and how to tune the things to suit our needs. Specifically i am interested in designing materials (catalysts) that could convert renewable waste materials to useful compounds.

My CV

Education:

B.Sc: St. Xavier’s College (1995-1998), Tirunelveli, India; M.Sc., The American College (1999-2001), Ph.D.: National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India

Qualifications:

M.Sc. in Chemistry (1999-2001), Ph.D in Heterogeneous Catalysis (2002-2007)

Work History:

National Chemical Laboratory, India (PhD), Cardiff University, UK (Postdoc; 2007-2011), Utrecht University, Netherlands (Marie Curie Fellow; 2011-2013)

Current Job:

Chancellors Research Fellow

Employer:

Cardiff Catalysis Institute, Cardiff University

Me and my work

I am a catalysis chemist and interested in developing catalysts that convert renewable materials (CO2, waste biomass) to useful compounds.

In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 EJ (1 EJ = 1018 J) and roughly 85% of this energy comes from fossil fuels. Similarly almost all the bulk chemicals we use come everyday come from fossil fuel based feedstock (petrochemicals). Currently our planet houses nearly 6 billion people and this number will increase to   9.6 billion by 2050. Besides growing population, economies of the countries with large population like China and India are growing rapidly. Consequently, there will be a huge increase in the demand for energy and chemicals in future. On the other side, it has been estimated that the production of crude oil will reach a maximum by ~ 2030. Large CO2 emissions, as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels, have resulted in climate changes. Because of these scenarios, there is a pressing need to find alternative feedstock for the production of chemicals and fuels that is clean and most importantly renewable. Though the recent discovery of shale-gas has been widely reported as an alternative feedstock to crude oil it is not truly renewable.

Biomass has been widely accepted as a renewable alternative feedstock for the production of chemicals and fuels. 1st generation biofuels, mainly bioethanol and biodiesel, produced from sugars, starch and vegetable oil compete directly with food. This prompted the development of 2nd generation biofuels, mainly from the lignocellulosic biomass. It has been reported that every year the world produces 220 billion dry tons of biomass (equivalent to 45 Exajoule (1018J) of energy) with a lignocellulosic content ranging from 70 to 95%. Lignocellulose has mainly three components (a) cellulose (40-50%), (b) hemicellulose (25-35%) and (c) lignin (15-20%). Bio-refineries, analogous to petroleum refineries, have been proposed for the production of chemicals and fuels from this biomass based feedstock. Compared to crude oil, biomass contains lots of oxygen and they will have to be removed to suit the current industrial processes (products). This can be achieved by hydrodeoxygenation reactions (removal of oxygen from the feedstock using hydrogen). Currently hydrogen is produced from crude oil based compounds and if we use this hydrogen for the hydrodeoxygenation of biomass it will not be economically viable and sustainable. So the challenge is to perform these hydrodeoxygenation reactions without using fossil fuel derived hydrogen.

Catalysis technology will play a crucial role in bio-refineries similar to their role in petroleum refineries. In this project I aim to develop catalysts that can derive hydrogen from the biomass itself and use that hydrogen for the elimination of oxygen. I intend to use a specific class of catalysts called supported bimetallic nanoalloy catalysts. The advantage of these supported nanoalloy catalysts is that they have substantially high activity selectivity and stability compared to their monometallic analogues. These bimetallic catalysts will act like a “bank” which takes the hydrogen from available source and use it in the place where it is needed. This project will help to realise the dream of a truly sustainable bio-based society.

My Typical Day

Email, Meeting research students and discuss about the data, Writing a research article or grant proposal (or planning for one), teaching or preparing for lectures

What I'd do with the money

I will emphasize the importance of using renewable feedstock and the possible options for a green and sustainable future.

I would like to popularise the importance of catalytic technology in making our society a greener and sustainable one. I will start with school children and educate the advancement in this area. Further i will run some sustainable chemistry workshops where i will demonstrate that the conventional crude oil can be replaced by other sustainable feedstock in making fuels and chemicals. I will use the money to buy chemicals and design a small tool-box for the kids to perform the experiments themselves.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, Perseverant, Hard-working

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Bollywood singer (Sorry!!!)

What's your favourite food?

Idly (South Indian dish), trust me, this is delicious

What is the most fun thing you've done?

What did you want to be after you left school?

Teacher

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not much

What was your favourite subject at school?

History and Science

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Designed a material that could convert waste biomass derived material to a fuel component

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My lecturers from St. Xavier’s College and The American College (India)

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Teacher

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I wish I knew many languages, A longer day, I had more time to read more books

Tell us a joke.

(Disclaimer: I did not invent this joke !!!) Different ways of catching a lion : The Method of Inversive Geometry: We place a spherical cage in the desert, enter it, and lock it. We perform an inversion with respect to the cage. The lion is then in the interior of the cage, and we are outside. xThe Thermodynamical Method: We construct a semi-permeable membrane, permeable to everything except lions, and sweep it across the desert. The Schrodinger Method: At any given moment there is a positive probability that there is a lion in the cage. Sit down and wait.

Other stuff

Work photos: