Name: Liam Thomas
Working on NOVACAM project: Levulinic acid to gamma-valerolactone modelling
Project leader: David Willcock
I completed a Chemistry BSc at the University of Bristol in 2011. I did a final year research project modelling different configurations of Dolomite and found interest within computational chemistry. I pursued this interest by completing an MSc at Cardiff University in Molecular Modelling in 2012 and decided to stay within the Cardiff Catalysis Institute to work towards a PhD in modelling biomass conversion.
Describe the project shortly in your own words?
Levulinic acid can be derived from biomass and used as a precursor for many applications within industries. Of particular interest is the conversion of levulinic acid (LA) to gamma-valerolactone (GVL). GVL has potential as a biofuel therefore successful conversion of the acid to GVL is essential in moving away from fossil fuel dependence.
What is the biggest challenge for you, or what fascinates you the most in this research project?
Using biomass as a precursor to traditional chemical feedstock material and the possibility of using biomass as a precursor to fuels interests me greatly. This project allows me to computationally model catalysts which may perform the conversion from LA to GVL. Modelling such processes allows us to gain a better understanding of the fundamental mechanistic steps and allows sensible catalyst design to occur based upon this knowledge. Naturally modelling chemical systems is a challenge as many side reactions / pathways can occur.
What is your future career ambition?
I would like to remain within research particularly in modelling of catalytic processes.
How do you like to spend your time when not working on your research?
I enjoy travelling and am a member of a hot air ballooning club. Weather permitting I like to fly as much as possible!