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Early Career Postdoctoral-Faculty Bridge Grant Winners Series: Houqian Li

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By ACS Green Chemistry Institute

In this series, we're spotlighting each winner of the inaugural ECP Faculty Bridge Grant! Join us in congratulating Houqian Li, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

By ACS Green Chemistry Institute

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In 2023, the inaugural ACS Early Career Postdoctoral (ECP) Faculty Bridge Grants awarded funds to six postdoctoral fellows. The grants, which span two years, assist postdoctoral fellows or faculty members in the early stages of establishing their research groups, whether as postdoctoral fellows or faculty members. This provides support during years that are critical for the development of robust research programs while also ensuring valuable professional growth and mentorship opportunities for the recipients. The program specifically emphasizes advancing sustainability research while building capacity for green chemistry education.

Houqian Li, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will pursue his project, “Tuning Chain Length of Alkenes in Plastic Oil with Catalytic Metathesis.” Houqian’s research focus is on transitioning from a linear to a circular economy, and he has led work at the CUWP, a multidisciplinary center on plastic upcycling. He’s found that a successful shift to a circular economy requires gathering more information, building new frameworks, and exploring innovative uses for waste.

“The effective transition requires the development of technologies with molecular-level understanding and system-level thinking, as demonstrated in my research on biomass and waste plastic upgrading,” said Houqian. His investigations leading up to this award have helped pave the way for advances in this area.

“Dr Li has developed a new approach to convert waste plastics into higher-value commodity chemicals that can be used to produce surfactants, coatings, and other polymers,” said his advisor, Dr. George W. Huber. “This approach uses a combination of pyrolysis and hydroformylation chemistry. Economics mandates that we try to upcycle waste materials and achieve the highest value possible for the products. Dr. Li proposes to produce commodity chemicals that are used in several higher-value applications from waste plastics with a significantly lower carbon footprint.”

Houqian’s plans to incorporate green chemistry concepts into his teaching echo his research. 

“I will design and teach courses that highlight the significance of environmentally- and energy-conscious practices, bridging fundamental knowledge with practical application,” he explained. “I would like to offer a new course, ‘Technologies for Plastic Recycling,’ which is inspired by my [research]. This course will comprehensively explore green chemistry principles, delve into plastic manufacturing, and investigate contemporary and future-oriented plastic recycling technologies, considering both their economic viability and environmental impact.”

He says his plan as an educator revolves around imparting knowledge and fostering a deep understanding of principles in green and sustainable chemistry, as well as chemical engineering, “I firmly believe that synergizing research and teaching has the power to ignite curiosity among students, kindling a thirst for deeper exploration,” he said.

Join us in whole-heartedly congratulating Houqian on this exciting achievement! Learn more about ACS Sustainability Grants and how you can apply on the ACS website.