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Meet the Fellow: Gianvito Vilé

The Future of Catalysis –
​How Bayreuth and Milan Collaborate at the Frontier of Sustainable Catalyst Design 

As the lectures slowly fade into summer bliss, Junior Fellow Dr.-Ing. Gianvito Vilé and his host, Professor Dr.-Ing. Andreas Jess, are busy in the labs of the faculty of Engineering Science making the most of the Italian’s first visit to UBT. For all their tight schedule they found time to talk shop: on their collab in pandemic times, the value of interdisciplinarity, and the exciting future of catalysis research.

What are the foci of your joint research funded by the Junior Fellowship?

Gianvito Vilé: This joint research project intends to get to the bottom of the structures and functions of single-atom catalysis. These materials, which contain isolated metals entrapped within the pores of an inert carrier, have great potential for sustainable chemical transformations since they can replace traditional heterogeneous nanostructured catalysts containing tons of toxic metals.

Andreas Jess: And so the project will address the mechanisms by which these materials catalyze specific chemical transformations. With these new catalytic materials, we hope to make an important contribution by rendering chemical processes more efficient.

In what way is your work interdisciplinary, and what does interdisciplinarity mean to you in academic work and life?

GV: Our work is very interdisciplinary, focused on integrating catalysis, materials engineering, chemical reaction engineering, physical chemistry, nanotechnology, and process intensifi­cation, with an eye on the fundamental and societal relevance of this new technology. In a way, we have merged our different competences and scientific paths: I am an expert in sustainable catalysis and have already contributed to the discovery of the first stable single-atom catalysts.

AJ: Me and my research group have a long experience in industrial chemistry, chemical reactor design, reactor modelling, and catalysis engineering. By merging our expertise, we hope to tackle some of the open questions in single-atom catalysis.

What is in your opinion the future of catalysis and in what way can research on catalysis contribute to meeting the urgent challenges of our time?

GV: Catalysis is the science of precisely directing chemical reactions to the production of products and it does so by using tiny amount of materials (that we call catalysts). Catalytic processes already have been used at industrial scale for more than 100 years to make plastics, clean fuels, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and electronics. And with growing concerns about climate change and the environment, this discipline is expected to play an even more important role in future.

AJ: But we need to drive a transition to a cleaner and more sustainable future, i.e. in clean energy production, the reduction of CO2 emissions, or circular chemical manufacturing with less or no waste products by recycling materials such as plastics. To that end, we urgently need new and better catalytic materials. Single-atom catalysts represent the frontier of catalyst design and can accelerate this shift due to their unique selectivity and the ability to economize the metal content.

What does international research mobility mean to you?

GV: International research mobility has always been very fundamental to the circulation of skills and ideas around the world. Face-to-face contact and the possibility to work and discuss results and methods in a research institution in a different country is thereby very important and by far cannot be substituted by contact via e-mail etc., especially for young researchers.

AJ: Today, there is also a significant increase in global competition between countries to attract skilled scientists. Europe (and Germany) are well-placed to compete internationally, also thanks to important research fellowships such as the Junior and Senior Fellowship offered by the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre.

Given how important mobility is to you: How did the current challenges influence your cooperation, especially regarding networking, academic exchange, digitalization, campus life,… ?

GV: We currently see the wide adoption of digital tools, not only for teaching but also for research purposes (including the organization of conferences), but it is often much easier and fruitful to discuss and interact face to face. Last but not least, exchanges such as the possibility to work and discuss abroad not only have a scientific function, but also lead to the exchange of cultural aspects between researchers of different countries, and to the development of international networks. So as soon as travel bans were lifted, I bought a ticket to Bayreuth.

AJ: Despite the challenges due to the pandemic, we still make it happen!

The Fellow and his Host

With a PhD from ETH Zurich, Gianvito Vilé was appointed in 2020 tenure-track assistant professor in Chemical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano, Italy. There, he also heads a research group on catalysis. Combining methods from chemistry and engineering, our Junior Fellow strives to design chemical processes that are greener, safer, and more efficient.

Andreas Jess has been Professor of Chemical Engineering at UBT since 2001. With his research on catalysts and the chemical use of hydrogen and carbon dioxide he aims to contribute to sustainable energy policies and firmly believes in the applicability of scientific results through basic research.

Mirjam Horn-Schott

Verantwortlich für die Redaktion: Dr. Mirjam Horn-Schott

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