Human history is tied to the materials past culture have had available to us, and more recently to the materials we have been able to create. Ancient cultures began their existence making use of easily obtained materials such as stone, soil, bones and some metals found in their local environments. This may be called the “inorganic material age”. Around 1900, a technique of producing polymer from petroleum was developed and the “synthesizable organic material age” started. This supplied mass producible general grade material and replaced inorganic to organic matter. However, modern rapid technological progress transformed our world into one in which electronic capabilities are integrated throughout all aspects of everyday life. This gave rise to return of the “inorganic material age” which has electrical properties such as silicon and metal. Recent demand for flexible electronic devices that can be stretched and bent is seeking for alternative materials to conventional inorganic matter. Also, with the expansion of application and demand for electronic devices, the needs for mass producible materials that have technical and economic viability are growing. In this regard, the only and promising material is “Carbon-rich”. I strongly believe that petroleum derived mass producible carbon material is crucial in leading electronic devices industry and would lead to the opening of “Synthesizable carbon-rich material age”.

Both my master’s thesis work and professional work focused on the improvement of productivity of hydrocarbon to carbon conversion. During the master’s program, I have worked on the sustainable growth of carbon nanotube on 2-D substrate through inhibition of Ostwald ripening. At GS Caltex, I have been working on the enhancement of productivity of carbon fiber cost effectively, through improvement of yield, hindrance of liquid crystalline hydrocarbon formation and development of continuous process of precursor pitch. However, the results of both works still could not meet the market demand in terms of productivity and production cost. One of the major reason why is because carbonization/graphitization process at high temperature is essential in conversion process

During my research on anisotropic hydrocarbon grain, raman spectra of fusible liquid crystalline hydrocarbon showed G-band, which is similar to carbon/graphite material. This indicated the possibility of formation of carbon rich properties without conversion. Also, from my research which showed that radical vulcanized archipelago of aromatic series have steric effect on stacking phenomena between aromatic plates and inhibit π-πinteraction, I could see the possibility of organic synthetic approach for carbon-rich structure without carbonization process.

In fact, from a literature review on chemical synthesis of graphene nanoribbon, I became interested in the similarity of organic synthetic approach of graphene nanoribbon and chemical reaction of asphaltene-like molecules for petroleum pitch production. For example, polymerization between heavy aromatic molecules and molecular planarization due to cyclodehydrogenation are used in synthesis process for enhanced processing of isotropic pitch and carbon yield. From such similarity, I believe that bottom-up synthesis of aromatic compound may be the stepping-stone in delving into my hypothesis that heavy oil may be converted into carbon rich compound. Refinery industry until today was focused around fuel, such as cracking of heavy aromatic molecule into a much lighter molecule. However, in the aspect of expanding the refinery product to material, making the heavy aromatic molecule much heavier may be an effective approach and such approach may become a new driving force for petroleum/petrochemical industry and research.

I firmly believe that poly aromatic molecules, which take up to 20% of crude oil and a relatively cheap fuel oil, could be developed with synthetic methodology to specialty chemical called Carbon-rich. With rapid development in technology and growing penetration of smart electronics devices, I believe that the rise of “synthesizable carbon-rich material age” is inevitable. As a researcher of carbon material and also as a chemical engineer of heavy oil, I think that petroleum derived synthesizable carbon-rich compound is my lifetime task and a goal as well. I have studied on water synthesis of 2dimentional carbon rich compound at TU Dresden since August, 2016. PhD program at professor Feng’s research group is the chance for me to pursue cutting edge research in molecular level. How to control atoms precisely to construct carbon rich compound with long range order in two orthogonal direction is fascinating art of synthesis and also gives fruitful chance to broaden my chemistry to material science. I wish to not only deepen my understanding but also contribute to the advancement in material age of human beings.

(c) Text by SangWook Park