A/Professor Akshat Tanksale

NANOSCALE HETEROGENEOUS CATALYSTS FOR LOW CARBON EMISSION FUELS AND CHEMICALS

By Ms Nancy Van Nieuwenhove | 5 December 2019

A/Professor Akshat Tanksale

Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, Chemical Engineering
Theme Leader for the Carbon Capture, Conversion and Utilisation, Woodside-Monash Energy Partnership.

Research interests: Biofuels and Biochemicals, Green Chemistry, Biorefinery, Catalysis, Hydrogen Production and Storage, Meso- and Micro-Porous Materials as Catalysts, Nanomaterials, Catalytic and Enzymatic, Depolymerisation of Biomass, CO2 Valorisation

Akshat Tanksale

Inspired by one of his uncles, a great botany professor and a role model for him, Akshat decided to follow the STEM pathway. He completed a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering at the National Institute of Technology (Raipur, 2001) and then decided to follow an academic career.

He completed a PhD in Hydrogen production from biomass feedstock at the University of Queensland in 2008. During that time, he examined nanomaterials and chemical reaction engineering. “I did PhD because I was interested in an academic career. I am driven by research in new energy to find a sustainable solution for fuels and chemicals”.

He has been working on hydrogen production since then. He did a postdoc at UQ exploring biomass conversion to liquid fuels and chemicals, and hydrogen storage.

We are living in a changing world where uncertainty dominates. Petroleum reserves are depleting. The world population is raising. What alternative energy could be the solution? Akshat believes that innovating new processes and designing novel heterogeneous catalysts at the nanoscale is the key for developing low carbon alternative fuels and chemicals. He joined Monash University as lecturer in 2011 to lead the Catalysis for Green Chemicals Group. The novel catalysts developed in the group enables selective conversion of biomass, providing faster reaction kinetics and higher yield of the products. “Monash University gives me the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in the country and attract high quality research students from around the world. My interest is in the field of heterogeneous catalysis for conversion of biomass to fuels and green chemicals using nanomaterials to reduce human resilience on conventional fossil fuels.As group leader of the Catalysis for Green Chemicals group at Monash, I am working in the field of nanomaterials to solve some of the grand challenges of this century; hydrogen production and use of CO2 to produce formaldehyde and its derivatives”.

Akshat continues to believe in a Low Carbon and Hydrogen Energy Future. He has recently been appointed the Theme Leader for the Carbon Capture, Conversion and Utilisation Theme of the Woodside Monash Energy Partnership. Woodside and Monash will jointly invest more than $40 million over the next seven years towards this partnership with three broad themes – 1) New Energy Technologies, 2) Carbon Capture, Conversion and Utilisation and 3) Energy Leadership. Akshat will lead several projects focusing on using CO2 as a feedstock for making chemicals and fuels, thereby reducing the net CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. “I am currently working on CO2 utilisation to make large volume of chemicals such as formaldehyde and its derivatives. Formaldehyde is a valuable starting block for making a number of chemicals, plastics and polymers. Currently around 30 million tonnes are used every year. However, nearly all of the formaldehyde is eventually produced from natural gas. We want to move away from natural gas and use renewable biomass as the feedstock. Moreover, our process eliminates a key step (methanol synthesis) which can reduce the energy consumption and capital costs”.

“Another challenge I am currently working on is using waste lignocellulose biomass from the forestry and agriculture sectors which normally end up in landfill or composting and hence the full chemical / energy potential is not utilised. By converting them to H2 we can convert the chemical energy to fuel energy. In case of H2, the energy conversion is via fuel cells which produces electricity.”

Akshat current projects are:

  • Hydrogen production from biomass (wood, wheat straw, bagasse, algae)
  • Production of formaldehyde and derivatives from direct hydrogenation of CO and CO2
  • Catalytic conversion of waste biomass into value added chemicals such as furfural, levulinic acid,hydroxymethyl furfural.
  • Depolymerisation of waste super absorbent polymers into monomers / oligomers for circular economy.
  • Direct CO2 hydrogenation into liquid fuels.

If not in his lab, teaching or supervising students, you will find Akshat pedalling for good causes. He is a cycling enthusiast, riding to work every day to stay fit and reduce the carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Akshat is hopeful about the Future of Energy and believe we can convert CO2 into fuels. “We would like to see achieved in 2020 in the energy sector - a major breakthrough in the conversion of CO2 into fuels”.

To go further:

Articles:

P. Gholkar, Y. Shashri, A. Tanksale*, Catalytic Reactive Flash Volatilisation of Microalgae to Produce Hydrogen or Methane-rich Syngas, Applied Catalysis B: Environmental, 2019, Volume 251, Pages 326-334

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of catalytic conversion of whole cell microalgae into hydrogen-rich* (65%) or methane-rich (16%) synthesis gas depending upon the catalyst. This is a significant advancement over the current methods of microalgae conversion since most of these do not convert whole cell. They focus only on lipids or carbohydrate component. This work resulted in two PCT patent applications in India through the IITB-Monash Research Academy and this is the first of three papers that we expect to publish. This work may make utilization of microalgae into energy carriers feasible in the future.

F.L. Chan, G. Altinkaya, N. Fung, A. Tanksale*, Low temperature hydrogenation of carbon dioxide into formaldehyde in liquid media, Catalysis Today, 2018, Volume 309, Pages 242-247

This paper demonstrates for the first time the conversion of CO2 into formaldehyde in a liquid phase catalytic reaction using catalysts and process developed in our lab. CO2 utilization is one of the grand challenges of this century and the development of this pathway to convert CO2 into bulk chemicals may lead to significant impact on climate change. Since the publication of this paper, our research has demonstrated that CO2 can be converted into diesel range fuel – (poly)oxymethylene ethers (POME), using formaldehyde as an intermediate (PCT patent applied).

F.L. Chan, A. Tanksale*, Catalytic Steam Gasification of Pinewood and Eucalyptus Sawdust Using Reactive Flash Volatilization, Applied Catalysis B: Environmental, 2016, Volume 187, Pages 310-327

Hydrogen is considered to be one of the long-term fuels for sustainable carbon free / neutral economy. In this respect, this paper demonstrated for the first-time direct conversion of wood waste into hydrogen rich syngas. This is a millisecond residence time autothermal catalytic reactor in which solid feedstock is directly converted into tar and char free syngas. The catalyst was developed in-house to do in situ tar reforming, which we demonstrated later, avoids secondary tar formation. This reactor is 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than conventional fluidized bed gasifier with downstream tar cleanup. Therefore, it can be used for decentralized biomass processing.

A.M. Bahmanpour, A. Hoadley, A. Tanksale*, Formaldehyde Production via Hydrogenation of Carbon Monoxide in Aqueous Phase, Green Chemistry, 2015, 17 (6), 3500 – 3507

This is a breakthrough paper in the field of liquid phase catalysis for the conversion of syngas into formaldehyde. We showed for the first time that formaldehyde can be produced directly from syngas. This reaction is thermodynamically impossible in the gas phase. However, our research showed that this reaction is feasible in aqueous phase. This breakthrough led to a new field of research in liquid phase conversion of CO into formaldehyde which opened up many pathways, like CO2 conversion using similar chemistry and cascade reaction to make POME via formaldehyde as intermediate.

A.M. Bahmanpour, A. Hoadley, S. Mushrif A. Tanksale*, Hydrogenation of Carbon Monoxide into Formaldehyde in Liquid Media, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, 2016, 4(7), 3970-3977.

This research follows from our breakthrough paper on aqueous phase CO hydrogenation into formaldehyde. In this paper we showed that methanol as a solvent is significantly better than water in promoting the conversion of CO. This work led the foundation for our understanding of the role of solvent in the reaction which continues to this day using molecular dynamics simulation and experiments using synchrotron X-ray and neutron scattering at ANSTO. Our fundamental understanding of the role of solvents has wider implication in the field of catalysis because increasingly the field is moving towards reactions is liquid phase.