At PEER, we strive to understand and leverage fundamental sciences that ultimately will lead us to create improved energy and environmental technologies. Our scientific researches focus on the areas of materials science, applied chemistry and computational techniques.
Polymer materials, especially water-soluble ones, are central to many of PEER’s endeavors in the energy and environment sectors. Guided by the evolving fundamental knowledge in polymer chemistry and polymer physics, we strive to master their scalable syntheses and manufacturing, understand their structure-property relationships, and enhance their performances under the harsh real-world conditions. Specific properties of interest include their rheological behaviors, tolerance to high temperature, resistance to salinity, adsorption and stability under shear deformation.
Fundamental knowledge of interfacial science is critical to understanding a variety of technologically important phenomena, including interactions at the interfaces of gas-liquid (e.g., foams, bubbles), liquid-liquid (e.g., emulsification and demulsification, microemulsion, extraction), gas-solid (e.g., aerosols, gas storage, catalysis), liquid-solid (e.g., corrosion inhibition, viscosification, membranes), and solid-solid (e.g., lubrication, nanomaterials). Many industrial applications hinge on such interactions at the microscopic level, and at PEER we seek to understand and exploit these behaviors by means of both experimentation and theoretical modeling.
Catalytic reactions are crucial in the pursuit of a sustainable future. As of 2005, catalytic processes generated about $900 billion in products worldwide. At PEER, both homogeneous the heterogenous catalysis are important research topics with focus on transforming basic raw materials to value-added chemicals through innovative designs of catalysts and reactors. Our competitive advantage is that we gather experimental and theoretical experts with diverse backgrounds in chemical engineering, theoretical chemistry, surface chemistry and material science.
Microbial biochemistry studies the chemical processes within and relating to living microorganisms. Molecular genetics, protein science and metabolism and the three cornerstones of microbial biochemistry. At PEER, our understanding of microbial biochemistry enables us to manipulate the microorganisms and their metabolisms that convert basic feedstocks to value-added chemicals with high selectivity and yield. Our emphasis is on the versatility of microbial metabolisms and the intrinsic ability of microorganisms to mediate biogeochemical cycles.
Isotope geochemistry involves the determination of the relative and absolute concentrations of the elements and their isotopes in the Earth and on Earth’s surface. The chemical composition of the Earth is determined by two opposing processes: differentiation and mixing, and a major source of differentiation is fractionation, an unequal distribution of elements and isotopes. Therefore, kinetics of Isotope Fractionation (KIF) is an extremely important topic, based on which one can determine the origin, maturity, migration and accumulation natural gases, which further lead to efficient resource extraction. At PEER, our research is focused on the KIF of both carbon and hydrogen. In particular, we seek to understand the entropy and enthalpy changes of cracking reactions for isotope-labeled and unlabeled hydrocarbons.
Traditionally, the discovery of new materials relies greatly on trial-and-error. Even though this approach has been used for decades, its ‘blind’ nature makes new development very costly and time-consuming. The rapid development of modern computational facilities and new algorithms has opened another dimension for molecule design and optimization. For two decades, PEER has been working to establish novel approaches for the development of new materials (catalysts, surfactants, functional polymers) by using a series of advanced simulation tools (coarse-grained modeling, molecular mechanics methods, density functional theory, etc.) that are spatially and temporally diverse, with each component representing a tradeoff between microscopic precision and macroscopic depiction.
At PEER, we take advantage of latest development of modern data science, especially various machine learning techniques, to bridge the gap between atomic/molecular simulation and macroscopic behaviors of the materials. This allows us to benefit from the well-developed, highly-precise molecular modeling techniques while circumventing their disadvantages in time consumption and computational cost. Such new computational paradigms are being validated through various experimental techniques and will eventually be applied to several technologically important scenarios in the energy and environment sectors, such as the prediction of surfactant performances, screening of suitable catalyst, and design of polymers with targeted properties.