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Dr. Roy Periana heading up new energy department at Scripps Florida

Jupiter, FL – Dr. Roy Periana, head of the new energy department at Scripps Florida, is well aware he needs to help bring in $90 million needed to get this lab started and functioning over the next five years.

Image courtesy of Kit Bradshaw Right now, however, he is focused more on possible breakthroughs in alternative fuels.

"Life is taking risks," said Periana. "I left a tenured position in California to move my family here and take this position, but here, with Scripps Florida, I have the chance to make alternative fuels work. To me, this is the new pioneering, being part of the best, and as we grow, other companies will come and graduate students will come to be part of this effort."

Periana, a chemistry professor, says that his passion for chemistry began as a youngster in his native Guyana, a passion he describes "using technology to change the world."

"I can remember as a kid of 10 or so, reading a book that said if you could duplicate photosynthesis, you could feed a city. That fascinated me. We were under the British system, and I would order materials, chemicals and flasks from England, and it would take three to six months to get to me. I began my experiments at an early age."

He considers himself an artist, since artists break new ground and don't follow the norms. He has done considerable research into methane and its use as methanol, and, he says, this research points to the possibility of breaking away from dependence on oil. The trouble is, the creation of methanol as an alternative fuel can be expensive.

"Methane, which comes from natural gas is one of the simplest hydrocarbons and one of the most abundant, cleanest sources of energy, unlike petroleum, which is more complex and coal, which has one carbon per hydrogen atom and will pollute you up the kazoo," Periana said.

The problem in making methane into methanol, which is a usable form of methane is the cost. Methane is a gas, Periana says, while oil is a liquid, so it is much easier to have a tanker drive up, get filled with the "black goo" and off it goes. With natural gas, it either needs to be transported by gas lines, or compressed into tanks, and that costs two to three times more than oil.

"What we want to do is take methane and make energy," he said. "We need to have a catalyst that will break the bonds in methane so that we can create methanol from methane in an efficient and cost-efficient way. Right now, one of the catalysts is platinum, which is very expensive, so we are trying to work with several different catalysts that hopefully will be less expensive but will break these bonds in methane."

As part of the energy lab at Scripps Florida, Periana said he wants to focus on the chemicals of life, such as oxygen, natural gas, water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

"We need to get energy out of a different 'engine,' and there's no guarantee that we'll solve these problems. But we'll never solve these difficult problems if we don't work on them."

Periana said the possibilities are what give him the drive to create an entirely new department at Scripps Florida and what helps him meet these challenges.

"An idea is an amazing thing," he said. "You can come into the lab in the morning and by evening change the course of humanity."

Courtesy of: Kit Bradshaw and TCPalm