Our History

Beginning in 1969, a group of visionary engineers and chemists began working in the chemical engineering department at the University of Delaware. As the group of colleagues began to develop a highly regarded reputation in catalysis, they recognized that they could realize greater accomplishments with more instrumentation, a greater continuity of funding, and increased collaboration with industrial partners. By 1978, about nine years after the nucleus of catalysis-focused researchers first gathered at the University of Delaware, the Center for Catalytic Science & Technology was formally established. The University dedicated a $325,000 capital equipment grant to seed the center and within a year, the University and NSF funds matched for the purchase of $700,000 in spectroscopic equipment (read the 1977 Unidel Grant Proposal).

The concept and efforts that led to the realization of a research center aimed at bridging the gap between rigorous molecular level science and the practical, market-oriented needs of the chemical industry was led by James R. Katzer, Bruce C. Gates, Alvin B. Stiles, and Arthur B. Metzner. Katzer became the center’s first director, serving from 1978-1981, followed by Gates who led the center from 1981-1988. Metzner, and later Kenneth B. Bischoff, provided support as chairmen of the chemical engineering department, and Stiles brought 42 years of industry experience as a chemical engineer with Du Pont to the fold. George C. A. Schuit, an inorganic chemist from Eindhoven, the Netherlands was also instrumental, providing much of the expertise about catalysis. He first joined the group of visionaries for a sabbatical year in 1970 and returned regularly in succeeding years.

The second oil crisis made catalysis urgently relevant to the country, helping the center grow. The first generation of CCST faculty expanded to include a new, vigorous group of faculty including Mark Barteau, Cecil Dybowski, Henry C. “Hank” Foley, Michael T. Klein, Douglas P. Ridge and Douglas J. Buttrey. Their focus on surface science, high-level computations, advanced electron microscopy, and novel materials synthesis advanced the impact of CCST research, education, and industrial collaborations. Klein was the center’s third director, leading CCST from 1988-1991, followed by Foley (1991-1996) and Barteau (1996-2000).

CCST continued to benefit from strong and innovative directors such as Jingguang Chen (2000-2007) and Dion Vlachos (2007-2012) who imprinted their mark on the Center’s research with the use of synchrotron radiation for NC2 studies and multiscale modeling of catalysts and reactor systems. Under Vlachos’ leadership, a new catalysis center – the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI) – emerged in 2009 with the support of the Department of Energy. This Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) reinvigorated and broadened catalysis research at the University of Delaware. Multi-institutional, collaborative research efforts were also nurtured, particularly regarding the transformation of lingocellulosic biomass into fuels, chemicals, and advanced materials.

The pressing need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and find new, clean sources of energy also brought increased attention to electrochemical energy transformations and the essential role of electrocatalysts. Under Raul F. Lobo (2012-2020) and Feng Jiao (2020-2023), CCST researchers regularly contributed important findings in these and other areas. A small sample of the intensive and high-quality work carried out at CCST over the last decade include advancements and developments surrounding rechargeable lithium-oxygen batteries, novel and selective conversion of carbon dioxide, development of catalyst and membrane materials to address cost barriers in the commercialization of clean energy, the discovery of promising zeolitic materials, new insights for efficient ammonia decomposition, sourcing coal waste in 3D printing, and producing food through artificial photosynthesis. Our ongoing excellence in catalysis research and leadership also spurred selection to lead a major node of the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute in 2016, the establishment of the Center for Plastics Innovation in 2020, and the launch of the Center for Clean Hydrogen in 2022.

Today, CCST remains at the forefront of catalysis science and reaction engineering. We continue to take great pride in our history as a trailblazer in the field and remain steadfast in our commitment to create a brighter, more sustainable future through novel research, industry engagement, and education of the next generation of catalysis and reaction engineering experts.

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We invite you to learn more about CCST and the exciting world of catalysis at the University of Delaware!


Center for Catalytic Science & Technology • 150 Academy Street • Newark, DE 19716