Chemistry mentor put Vela on path to better biofuels

As a boy growing up in Mexico, Javier Vela took an early interest in science and planned to become an engineer or a physicist. But an “excellent” high school chemistry teacher helped steer him onto the path to perhaps solving one of the stumbling blocks that’s hampering the biofuels industry.

“The Lab helps by reaching out to the public, raising awareness and building advocacy. Without that help, we wouldn’t be able to conduct our research at such a high level.”

“My ultimate scientific goal is show the viability of photocatalysis—to convert biomass into fuel using only sunlight as the driving force,” says Vela, who is in his third year as an Ames Lab chemist. “We’re working to develop catalysts that can harness solar energy and turn it into chemical energy. Basically take water or biomass and turn it into hydrogen or other fuels.”

Vela has been making the most of that opportunity, studying the fabrication, characterization and properties of novel heterostructured nanomaterials, a key tool in developing catalysts to solve the biofuels problem mentioned above. And Ames Lab has been vital in those efforts.

“Ames Lab has obviously been extremely helpful in the scientific area. Electron microscopy is very important to what we do, and the Lab provides us access to those resources,” Vela says.

Click here to find out more about Vela’s work.