Two researchers at West Virginia University’s Department of Physics have been awarded $100,000 by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund to help determine ways to lower the amount of carbon emissions from automobiles.

Researchers James P. Lewis and Hong Wang are helping find commercially viable options to aid in what has become an increased focus by state regulators to enforce more stringent automobile emissions standards and other environmentally friendly initiatives. A promising solution is gaining traction, as more in the scientific community recognize that gold, stabilized by polymers, is the new “green.”

Researchers believe using gold catalysts in automobile exhaust cleanup, instead of current catalysts which are inactive below 200 degrees Celsius, would be able to react in much lower temperatures and help remove harmful emissions including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. This allows cleanup catalysts to remove emissions from the time an automobile’s key is turned, which would reduce the large amount of pollution during the first five minutes after an engine is started.

Emissions are the measurable release of gases and other particles into the atmosphere from a specified activity and a specified period of time, such as burning fuels. The most common types generally come from automobiles, power plants and industrial companies.

“Catalysts play a key role in such things as energy production, large-scale chemical production, food processing and increasing the efficiency of industrial processes in general,” Wang said.

Obtaining a better understanding of the way polymer-stabilized gold catalysts work, the researchers say, will lead to a strategy for developing organically assisted catalysts that address energy and environmental-related challenges.

WVU junior Jessica Carr, a nominee for the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for students who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering, has been assisting on the project by analyzing how gold nanoparticles interact with other organic materials such as L-cysteine, an amino acid used as a building block for proteins.

The research will be used by collaborator Feng-Shou Xiao of Zhejiang University in China, who is investigating reaction mechanisms of these systems. Some of the research team’s results have already been published by the “Journal of Catalysis.”

Lewis said the research group has always been interested in solving energy and environmental-related issues, and it believes gold-based catalysts are a promising solution to these challenges.

Lewis received his doctorate in physics from Arizona State University. Wang earned her doctorate in physical chemistry from Jilin University in China.

The Society’s Petroleum Research Fund supports innovative fundamental research, advanced scientific education and the careers of scientists, to aid in significantly increasing the world’s energy options.

For more information, contact James P. Lewis, associate professor of physics specializing in computational condensed matter, at (304) 293-3435 or



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Co-Director of Marketing and Communications
304-293-7405, ext. 5251,

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.