Katalin Barta

Embracing complexity in renewable resources: A molecular approach to circular economy

University of Graz, Graz, Austria


Modern society faces daunting sustainability challenges, some of which – especially those related to resources and pollution – can only be tackled by fundamental research in chemical and molecular sciences and a judicious design for circularity.[1] Our research program in sustainable catalysis addresses the development of new chemo-catalytic strategies that enable the integration of sustainable carbonaceous raw materials into the circular economy.[2] One of our key focus areas is the development of integrated biorefinery schemes, considering lignocellulosic biomass as raw material, specifically through the development of ‘lignin-first’ strategies.[3] These methods allow for the selective formation of well-defined aromatic building blocks from lignin, while simultaneously maintaining the quality of the carbohydrate fractions. Following mild catalytic depolymerization of biomass, the new platform chemicals maintain sufficient structural diversity, which can be utilized for the development of waste-free coupling strategies via C-C or C-N bond formation to access a range of attractive products.[4] These include biologically active molecules comprising amines and typically difficult-to-synthesize N-heterocycles[5,6], polymer building blocks[7] and even a molecular motor[8]. In contrast to conventional, high-temperature approaches, which target simple bulk chemicals, our research philosophy embraces the inherent structural complexity of natural biopolymers to create a richer and ‘greener’ chemical space, based on renewable resources.
[1] J. B. Zimmerman, Science, 2020, 367, 397.
[2] Science, 2024, accepted
[3] Nat. Rev. Chem, 2020, 4, 311.
[4] Nat. Catal., 2018, 1, 82.
[5] Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2024, 63, e20230813.
[6] ACS Cent. Sci. 2019, 5, 10, 1707.
[7] Nat Commun., 2022, 13, 3376.
[8] Green Chem., 2022, 24, 3689.

Short Bio:

Prof. Katalin Barta is Full Professor at the Institute of Chemistry, University of Graz, leading the Sustainable Catalysis unit. Under the umbrella of Green Chemistry, her research focuses on the catalytic conversion of renewable resources to access bio-based products by zero-waste pathways, constructing integrated biorefinery schemes. The research addresses key scientific challenges that enable the transition to a bio-based circular economy and embraces multiple disciplines, including catalysis, alternative solvents, polymers and materials with a key focus on environmental impact and circularity aspects.
Katalin Barta started her independent career at the prestigious Stratingh Institute for Chemistry, the University of Groningen in 2013 as tenure track Assistant Professor. In 2017 she was promoted to Associate Professor at the same institution. Subsequently she moved to the University of Graz to assume her current role as Full Professor in 2019.    
She obtained her master’s degree from ELTE Budapest, Hungary (with Prof. István T. Horváth), combined with an Erasmus stay at Leeds University. She earned her Ph.D. at RWTH-Aachen, Germany (with Prof. Walter Leitner) working on homogeneous catalysis and ligand design. She was then a postdoctoral researcher (2008-2010) with Prof. Peter Ford at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she co-developed the efficient deconstruction of lignocellulose in supercritical methanol using Cu-doped porous metal oxides (dubbed ‘the UCSB process’). Next, she was Associate Research Scientist (2010-2012) at Yale University (New Haven, USA), Center for Green Chemistry and Engineering with Prof. Paul T. Anastas, where she worked on project related to green chemistry and renewables.
She is recipient of the ERC Starting Grant 2015, ERC Proof of Concept Grant 2019 and the ERC Consolidator Grant 2023 as well as the Vidi Talent Scheme 2016, and Aspasia from the Dutch Science Foundation. She received the EIC Transition Grant (2021), the Styrian Innovation award (2022) and the Phoenix prize (2023), recognizing science-to-entrepreneurship activities in the area of bio-based surfactants.
For outstanding contributions in sustainable catalysis, she received the 1st Netherlands’ Catalysis and Chemistry Conference Award (NCCC) in 2019 and the ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering Lectureship Award in 2020. She is elected member of the Young Academy of Europe (YAE) and since 2023, President of the EuChemS division of Green and Sustainable Chemistry. She is the chair of the Editorial Board of ChemSusChem.

Go to Editor View