UTSA Study Could Get Rid of Carbon Emissions From Atmosphere

Zachary Tonzetich is an associate professor in the chemistry department at UTSA College of Sciences. He is one of two people who have been given a one-year, $100,000 grant from The Welch Foundation to work on a project that could clean up the atmosphere by removing carbon emissions.

This past August, Tonzetich and Anthony Cozzolino, an associate professor in the chemistry department at Texas Tech University and a research partner of Tonzetich’s, were given a WelchX pilot grant. Leading chemistry researchers from all over Texas work together on the WelchX program to solve hard problems that affect people.

Tonzetich and Cozzolino’s project, “Soft Lewis Acid Directed Reductive C-C Bond Formation for the Generation of Platform Chemicals from CO2,” aims to create a fresh way to change carbon dioxide from a greenhouse gas into a raw material that can be used to make new chemicals like fuels or polymers. If this project succeeds, it could open up a useful new area of research in catalysis and cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Tonzetich said, “Our plan is to make new catalysts that can use CO2 to make molecules that will be useful in making chemicals.” “One benefit of using CO2 as a source is that it is easy to get and there is a chance that we could remove it from the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Tonzetich was chosen for the research grant because he is an expert in catalysis with Earth-abundant transition metals. These are metals like iron and nickel that are more common in the earth’s crust than rare metals like palladium. He is also famous for his work in hydrogenation and hydroboration catalysis, two ways that alkenes (compounds with carbon-carbon double bonds) can be changed into new things like fuel, plastics, and detergents.

The Welch Foundation held a retreat in Houston this past summer. Tenured faculty from across the state, including Tonzetich, were invited to take part. They were in the early to mid stages of their careers. The retreat’s theme was “Chemistry for Sustainability,” and people were asked to think of new ways to use and make clean energy and materials that could help them get a WelchX Pilot Grant.

There were activities at the retreat that were meant to get people talking about how to work together on research projects and be successful as investigators. The people who took part had to find a partner and come up with a new research idea. After the conference, everyone was told to work with a partner to make a full research proposal for the Welch Foundation. It had to be turned in in 10 days. Even though the shorter deadline made things harder, Tonzetich and Cozzolino turned in their competitive proposal on time, which led to this new funding.

“The retreat experience was overwhelmingly positive,” Tonzetich said. “It let me meet other students from across the state and learn about their different ideas about science and working together.” Tonzetich is interested in bioinorganic chemistry, coordination chemistry, and earth-abundant metal catalysis as areas of research. The Tonzetich Lab is an expert in synthetic inorganic and organometallic chemistry. Most of the synthetic work done there involves working with materials that are sensitive to air and moisture.

“With this grant from the Welch Foundation, we will look into a new way of designing catalysts that solve the problems of reducing the harmful effects of carbon emissions,” Tonzetich said. “I want to thank the university for paying for my trip to the WelchX Conference. It was a great chance to meet other researchers from across the state and talk about the exciting science going on here at UTSA.”

One of the biggest and best-known private sources of money for chemistry research in the country is the Welch Foundation. As a result, basic chemical research at Texas universities, colleges, and other schools is supported.

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