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UW-Eau Claire Chemist Awarded Three-Year
Grant for Fuel-Cleanup Research

RELEASED: July 18, 2008

Dr. Alan Gengenbach
Dr. Alan Gengenbach

EAU CLAIRE — The American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund has awarded just over $60,000 in grant funding to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Dr. Alan Gengenbach, associate professor of chemistry, for a research project focused on reducing the sulfur in crude-oil-based fuels.

The grant, which will run from September 2008 through August 2011, will allow Gengenbach to hire at least two student assistants for the next three years, including summer research periods, to work with him on his project titled "Fundamental Studies of Metalloporphyrin Catalyzed Oxidation of Dibenzothiopenes."

Gengenbach, who works in the area of inorganic chemistry, said one of the principal aims of the grant proposal was to engage undergraduates in meaningful, ongoing research that contributes to the discipline and can be sustained through extramural as well as institutional support. UW-Eau Claire's office of Research and Sponsored Programs will contribute $7,500 to help pay the students and purchase supplies.

The research that Gengenbach and his students will begin this fall is a new line of investigation related to and building on prior work by Gengenbach and student collaborators. He explained that dibenzothiopenes are sulfur-containing molecules found in crude oil and diesel fuels. Because of problems associated with acid rain, the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated more stringent standards aimed at lowering the amount of sulfur in fuels. Because their physical properties make dibenzothiopenes difficult to remove, Gengenbach and his students will study their oxidation catalyzed by synthetic molecules called metalloporphyrins. Oxidation changes the dibenzothiopenes into other substances more easily removed than the original dibenzothiophenes.

One of Gengenbach's previous research projects used metalloporphyrins to catalyze oxidation of azo dyes, a group of highly colored molecules widely used for dying textiles which often end up in the environment, are slow to degrade and often produce toxic materials. In fact, ever since Gengenbach joined the UW-Eau Claire faculty in 2002, he and his students have been making, modifying and studying porphyrin molecules because they are known to be effective catalysts for biological and other reactions.

"In general, my projects focus on reactions with environmental implications that have been overlooked by other metalloporphyrin chemists," Gengenbach said.

Designated by the UW System as a Center for Excellence for Faculty and Undergraduate Research Collaboration, UW-Eau Claire annually awards more than $500,000 for faculty/student research projects. In the chemistry department, many research projects are also funded by organizations like the American Chemical Society or the National Science Foundation through the successful grant-writing efforts of UW-Eau Claire chemistry faculty.

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