“Catalysis [is] the enabling discipline in energy supply and conversion, 

in the synthesis of fuels and chemicals, and in our thoughtful care for the environment;

it [is] an essential contributor to quality of life and 

to sustainable growth in the world at large”.

E. Iglesia, 2009-2017 President of the North American Catalysis Society

Research Focus: Heterogeneous Catalysis

Based at the University of Alberta, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, the Semagina Group focuses on experimental heterogeneous catalysis.

We develop nanostructured catalytic materials, pursuing three goals:

  • reduce or avoid the use of scarce and expensive components, while maintaining or even improving the overall process efficiency;
  • understand the mechanism of the material function in order to further understand how to design proper catalysts; and
  • apply the acquired knowledge to existing and emerging chemical engineering processes.

Research Themes

Applications: Focus on Energy and Environment

  • Renewable energy storage


    Wind farm (source: Wikipedia):













    Electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen has been known for more than two centuries. Although electrolysis produces no CO2, as opposed to hydrogen production through conventional methane steam reforming, the process is rarely commercialized because of economic considerations. However, in the past few decades the process has gained increasing attention, as it can serve as a means of storing renewable electrical energy in the form of hydrogen, which can then be converted to water and energy in a hydrogen fuel cell as needed. Acidic polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) water electrolyzers offer multiple advantages over other water-splitting devices but suffer from catalyst deactivation in an acidic environment. Our research aims to address the catalyst stability issues, and the study is performed in collaboration with Professor Marc Secanell.

    A representative publication:

    Decoupling structure-sensitive deactivation mechanisms of Ir/IrOx electrocatalysts toward oxygen evolution reaction (Journal of Catalysis, 2019):











  • Mitigation of methane emissions


    Natural gas vehicle fuel station (© 2008 Mario R. Duran):

    Catalyst development for low-temperature methane combustion has received significant attention due to the growing market of alternative fuel vehicles, such as natural-gas vehicles (NGV) or biogas-powered vehicles. Natural gas has the highest energy/carbon ratio of any fossil fuel and produces the lowest emissions of not only CO2 but also other pollutants (NOx, SOx, particulates, CO).

    With demand rising, the market is not yet ready to meet the environmental and economic implications of the new technology. Methane itself has a global warming potential (GWP) that is 28-36 times higher than that of CO2 over 100 years (data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). As a result, in 2016 in Canada, methane emission control was put in place. Practically, the only way to eliminate these emissions is through the use of a catalytic converter, which constitutes the heart of an exhaust gas treatment system.

    CH4 is the most difficult of all hydrocarbons to burn, meaning that larger amounts of expensive noble metals must be used in the converters. Palladium catalysts are also subject to deactivation by water present in the engine exhaust and by sintering at high exhaust temperatures.

    These indicate the immediate need for an efficient CH4 combustion catalyst with the lowest possible noble metal loading and the smallest size and cost of the converter, which should at least be stable for the NGV lifetime. In our laboratories, we use a mindful combination of colloidal chemistry techniques to develop the required catalysts, which are tested under practically-relevant conditions. The project is carried out in collaboration with Professor Robert Hayes.

    A representative publication:

    100° Temperature reduction of wet methane combustion: highly active Pd–Ni/Al2O3 catalyst versus Pd/NiAl2O4 (ACS Catalysis, 2015):









  • Fuel upgrading


    Forest affected by acid rain (image from wikipedia), which is formed from sulfur and nitrogen oxides:
















    Increasing global demand for ultra-low sulfur fuels has reinvigorated academic and industrial interest in developing active catalysts and energy-conscious technologies that are able to bring the S content down to 10 ppm. Sulfur reduction to such levels has to do primarily with the elimination of refractory sulfurous compounds such as dialkyl-dibenzothiophenes with alkyl groups adjacent to the sulfur atom, which makes the HDS process quite challenging. The reason is steric hindrance: alkyl groups prevent the perpendicular adsorption required for C-S bond hydrogenolysis on a catalyst surface. It is estimated that either pressure or reactor volumes must be tripled for efficient ultra-deep hydrodesulfurization (HDS). Powerful catalytic systems are urgently needed to meet the stringent environmental regulations along with the decreasing quality of the available raw materials.

    In our approach, we develop nanocatalysts that are able to shift the HDS mechanism of the refractory sulfur compounds from a hydrogenation path, which requires high hydrogen pressure, to direct desulfurization at lower pressure. Specific attention is paid to reduce or even eliminate the need for platinum group metals in the catalysts for hydrotreatment.

    A representative publication:

    Promotion of niobium oxide sulfidation by copper and its effects on hydrodesulfurization catalysis (ACS Catalysis, 2018)

Past Research Interests and Expertise

  • Zeolite-catalyzed dimethyl ether carbonylation
  • Ring opening in fuel upgrading
  • Hydrogenations for fine chemicals synthesis
  • Oxidative and dry methane reforming
  • Allylic alkylation for environmental care
  • Ultrasound-assisted solid-liquid extraction