Nicholls Professor Receives Patent for Postdoctoral Research

Dr. Uttam Pokharel

THIBODAUX, La. — A Nicholls State University professor of chemistry has been awarded a patent for a process that converts an industrial waste product into a useful organic molecule.

During his postdoctoral research at Louisiana State University in 2014, Nicholls assistant chemistry professor Dr. Uttam Pokharel was part of a team that developed a process that captures carbon dioxide and converts it into oxalic acid, a value-added compound. The patent was issued from the office of Innovation & Technology Commercialization at LSU.

Having faculty on staff like Dr. Pokharel helps further Nicholls chemistry’s mission of educating and equipping students to become the best doctors, pharmacists, researchers and chemists in the nation.

“We are different from other Louisiana universities in that we have an intense focus on mentorship,” said Dr. Chad Young, Nicholls chemistry department head. “Professor Dr. Uttam Pokharel mentors some of our best students, and they look to him as a model for what it means to be a scholar and scientist. This patent is further evidence of his excellence as a researcher, and it confirms his students’ high view of the work they do in his lab.”

During this research, Dr. Pokharel developed a system in which a binuclear copper complex selectively captures carbon dioxide from the air and converts it into oxalate. The oxalate can be released from the complex in the form of oxalic acid using commonly available acids.

Oxalic acid is primarily used in the dye industry but can also clean iron, wood, stone or vinyl. The molecule can also be further converted into ethanol or ethylene glycol, which could help address the fuel shortage problem.

“I contributed to perform the experiments, Dr. Frank Fronczek, a crystallographer, contributed in the characterization of complexes”, Dr. Pokharel says. The project was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Maverick, a chemistry professor at LSU. “As an inventor, I will get a part of its royalty if the patent gets commercialized.”


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