Professor Karen Wilson

Professor of Catalysis and Research Director 

Phone number: 0121 204 5456
Email: k.wilson@aston.ac.uk 
Room Number: EB128


I joined Aston in 2013 to take up a position of Chair of Catalysis and Research Director of the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI). 
Prior to this I was a Reader in Physical Chemistry at Cardiff University (2009-2013) where I was also a member of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute and in 2011 was awarded a four year Royal Society Industry fellowship to work with Johnson Matthey on the development of catalysts for biofuel synthesis. 

From 2007 to 2009 I was a senior lecturer at the University of York, having first been appointed as a lecturer there in 1999. Prior to this I undertook postdoctoral research in the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York (1998-99) and at the University of Cambridge with Professor Richard M Lambert (1996-98). 

Professor Karen Wilson
  • BA (Hons) Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge, (1992)
  • MSc (Distinction) Heterogeneous Catalysis and Surface Science (1993)
  • PhD in Heterogeneous Catalysis and Surface Science, ‘Poison and promoter species in Pt catalysed hydrocarbon oxidation’ University of Cambridge (1996)
  • 2013 – to date: Professor of Catalysis and Research Director, European Bioenergy Research Institute, Aston University.
  • 2009 – 2013: Reader in Physical Chemistry, Cardiff Catalysis Institute, School of Chemistry, Cardiff University. 
  • 2007 – 2009: Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of York.
  • 1999-2007: Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of York.
  • 1998 – 1999: EPSRC Funded Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Chemistry, University of York.
  • 1996-1998: EPSRC Funded Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge.
Our research focusses on the development of heterogeneous catalysts for use in sustainable chemical processes and the utilisation of renewable resource, specifically waste biomass in the production of fuels and chemicals.
We are particularly interested in the development of nanoparticulate and nanoporous catalytic materials and understanding structure-activity relationships in catalytic processes.

Our research into sustainable catalytic processes and biorefinery technologies is underpinned by establishment of a state of the art catalysis research facility within EBRI equipped with a suite of high pressure autoclaves and multi-position batch reactors for catalyst testing, in-situ spectroscopic and crystallographic techniques for catalyst characterisation (XPS, high pressure XRD, DRIFT, DRUV cells and ATR liquid flow cell), and adsorption techniques (porosimeters, pulse chemisorption) for surface area, porosity and active site analysis of porous catalysts. In addition the laboratory has a continuous catalytic flow reactor for vapour/gas phase reactions equipped with online GC and MS analysis, as well as several off line GC and HPLC instruments for monitoring catalytic reactions, large scale (5L) batch reactors and a suite of furnaces for catalyst synthesis.

Specific research areas include:
  • Sustainable Chemistry
  • Surface Chemistry
  • Bi-functional catalysts for production of platform chemicals and fuels from biomass
  • Nano-porous hierarchical solid acid and base catalysts for biodiesel synthesis
  • Mechanistic studies of hydrodeoxygenation of pyrolysis oil.
  • Development of catalysts with tuneable hydrophobicity
  • Selective hydrogenation and oxidation reactions
  • Photocatalysis
  • Operando studies of working catalysts
  • (2014-18) Royal Society Leverhulme Africa award ‘Sustainable Biofuel Production from Ghanaian and Tanzanian Oil Seed Crops’ 
  • (2013-18) EU-FP7 ‘Cascade deoxygenation process using tailored nanocatalysts for the production of Biofuel from lignocellullosic biomass’ (CASCATBEL)
  • (2013-17) EPSRC ‘Development of fast pyrolysis based advanced biofuel technologies for biofuels’ EP/K036548/1 
  • (2013-18) EPSRC 'Ionic Liquid Biorefining of Lignocellulose to Sustainable Polymers' EP/K014676/1 
  • (2013-18) EPSRC 'Catalytic Routes to Intermediates for Sustainable Processes' EP/K014749/1 
  • (2013-18) EPSRC 'The UK Catalysis Hub - Bioenergy theme' EP/K014706/1 (Bio-fuels sub theme leader) 
  • (2013-17) EU-FP7 'Photo-catalytic materials for the destruction of recalcitrant organic industrial waste' (PCATDES) (Joint-coordinator)
  • (2012-15) EPSRC/NSF ‘Tuning Catalyst Surfaces to Control Aldol Reactions in Biomass Conversion’ (EP/K000616/1) (In collaboration with University of Oklahoma)
  • (2011-12) BBSRC ‘UK - Vietnam Workshop on Biofuels’, BB/J019828/1 
  • (2011-12) BBSRC ‘Developing a cereal straw biorefinery using rice as a model and a feedstock’ BB/JO13838/1 
  • (2011-15) Royal Society Industry Fellowship ‘Nanoengineering heterogeneous catalysts for biofuel synthesis’               
  • (2009-12) EPSRC ‘Designer Catalysts for High Efficiency Biodiesel Production’  EP/F063423/1    
  • (2008-11) AHRC/EPSRC Science Heritage Studentship ‘Weathering and decay in Historic Limestone’ 
  • (2007-09) EPSRC ‘Operando Studies of Palladium-Catalysed Cross-Coupling Surface Chemistry’ EP/E046754/1 
  • (2007-11) EPSRC ‘Nanoparticle-doped Mesoporous Silicates / Synthetic Developments and their Applications in Catalysis’ EP/F009488/1
  • (2006-07) The Leverhulme Trust ‘Combinatorial Solid State Materials Synthesis & High-Throughput Catalyst Screening’ 
  • (2006-07)  ACS Petroleum Research Fund ‘Fast XPS of Pd-Catalysed Cross-Coupling Surface Reactions’ 
  • (2006-08) EPSRC Chemical Engineering Discipline Hop Award ‘Optimising Molecular architectures for heterogeneous catalysis in nanoporous solids’ EP/E013090/1
  • (2005-06) Royal Society Overseas Fellowship ‘Biodiesel Catalysts’      
  • (2001-04) EPSRC ‘Supported thin films as models for sulphated metal oxide catalysts’ GR/R39436/01
Current PhD student projects:

Amin Osatiashanti – Tuneable solid acids for glucose conversion to platform chemicals and fuel additives
Mark Isaacs – Antimicrobial silver nanocomposites  
Lee Durndell (Joint with the University of Warwick) – Structure activity relations in catalysts for selective hydrogenation of allylic aldehydes
Leandro Ardemani (Joint with the University of Warwick) – Bifunctional solid base catalyst for selective oxidation of 5-HMF 
Scott Board – Mechanistic studies of nitrile hydrogenation catalysts
Brunella Barbero – Photo-catalytic degradation of organic pollutants in waste water 
James Hunns – Mechanistic studies of pyrolysis oil hydrodeoxygenation catalysts
Nazrizawati Ahmad Tajuddin – Nanostructured catalysts for biodiesel synthesis
Rima Trofimovaite (Joint with the University of Warwick)  – Photocatalytic reduction of Carbon Dioxide

PhD projects are available in the following areas:

1. Non precious metal based catalysts for bio-oil upgrading.
2. Catalyst development for algal oil conversion to biofuels and platform chemicals.
3. Tailored solid acids and bases for biodiesel synthesis from non-edible oils.
4. Catalysts for platform chemical synthesis from lignocellulose.
5. Aqueous phase processing of biomass to biofuels.
6. Photo-catalytic conversion of organic containing waste
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Member of the American Chemical Society
Member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers