Dr. Kajornsak Faungnawakij, a prominent researcher at the National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC), recently won the “Young Scientist Award 2011” for his research entitled “Development of Multifunctional Nanocatalysts for Producing Environmentally Friendly Biofuels.”

The alternative fuels, petrochemical and biochemical sectors are playing a vital role with regard to contribution to the country’s development. Advances in chemical engineering and applied chemistry, especially in the development of catalysts, are crucial driving forces behind these industries.  Producing fuels, particularly those derived from organic materials or crop feedstock used to produce heat, electricity or liquid fuels for vehicles, is a chemical process that has to be done entirely in an advanced laboratory.  Therefore, implementing nanometer-scale catalysis and designing optimum operating conditions will appreciatively help minimize energy waste and maximize production yield.

Dr. Kajornsak and his team at the Nanomaterials for Energy and Catalysis Lab at NANOTEC, have been trying to develop multifunctional nanocatalysts and designing the optimum conditions for catalytic reactor tanks to produce environmentally friendly catalysts and biofuels. 

Dr. Kajornsak has studied and tested several types of catalysts including spinel oxides, mixed alkaline earth oxides, alumina and zeolites, as well as their composites, in order to find the metallic function, pH, and particle shape and size ideal for producing biodiesel, synthetic diesel, alcohol and hydrogen that can replace the widely used heterogeneous catalysts (which are not renewable and very pollutant).

The researchers have successfully designed a method and tools that work well with the reactants that they use to produce the desired results.  The process begins with preparing the reactants in a reactor tank whose condition has been optimized to produce the desired results.  The output then undergoes a sorting process in order to ensure a high purity level that is ready for real applications.  The team has also nanostructured heterogeneous catalysts that can provide optimum and high-quality results.  These heterogeneous catalysts are compatible with reactants composed of various ingredients and work well in complex reaction environments.  In addition, these particulate heterogeneous catalysts can easily be separated from products following the reaction, allowing the catalysts to be reused (environmentally friendly).

Dr. Kajornsak Faungnawakij holds a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Prince of Songkhla University and obtained his PhD in Chemical Engineering from Chulalongkorn University.  Prior to joining NANOTEC, he worked as a researcher at the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) in Japan.  He went on to complete his postdoctoral fellowship in development of a catalyst for hydrogen production and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) application at Kyoto University.

Currently, Dr. Kajornsak is head of of Nanomaterials for the Energy and Catalysis Lab at the National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC). In 2010, he received the CST Distinguished Young Chemist Award in the category of Organic Chemistry from the Chemical Society of Thailand, which is under the patronage of (Prof.) HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak.