Engineering Solutions for Clean Energy Generation, Storage and Consumption
The main proposition is that innovative science and engineering solutions are needed to provide environmentally-sustainable energy for domestic consumption. Globally, power consumption is currently 14 TW, and it is expected to triple within 40 years, as third-world economies continue to expand. In order to engage and train the next generation of scientists and engineers in providing clean energy solutions, this REU program is built around a set of projects that address various technical aspects of future energy solutions. These projects include: technologies for oil spill cleanup; ionic liquids for CO2 separation and capture; CO2 emissions monitoring from sequestration formations; fuel cell, supercapacitor, and electrochemistry modeling; biogas and biodiesel production; energy storage in clathrate hydrates; and environmental catalysis. These projects provide excellent opportunities for conducting hypothesis-driven research, using state-of-the-art facilities. Through these activities, the students will acquire the knowledge and hands-on training to develop clean energy technologies, preparing the students for long-term career opportunities.
Alkylation in Membrane Reactors – Dr. Stephen Ritchie
Demand for methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive, increased when leaded gasoline was phased out in the 1970s. Additionally, MTBE has been used to produce cleaner‐burning reformulated gasoline. The main benefit that MTBE provides to the gasoline blend is an octane boost without fouling catalytic converters.
Biofuel Production Using Metabolically Engineered Microorganism – Dr. Margaret Liu
As a clean fuel with high energy content, biobutanol can be used as a substitute for imported gasoline, converted to bio-jet (JP8) and biodiesel fuels, and also used to provide clean hydrogen for fuel cell power (10w-h/g) for portable hardware. Current biofuel production is limited by the low productivity of microorganisms due to the metabolism limitation of solvent formation and severe product inhibition. For example, the maximum butanol productivity achieved so far has been only 12-16g/L by the homogenous strain C. acetobutylicum; and the butanol productivity produced from heterologous strains, including E. coli, L. brevis, P. putida, B. subtilis and S. cerevisia, has been even lower (2.5mg/L-4.6g/L).
Characterization of Advanced Solvents for Natural Gas Sweetening – Dr. Jason E. Bara
Proven, domestic reserves of natural gas are dramatically increasing due to new drilling techniques, enabling extraction from sources once thought to be uneconomical or impossible to produce. Natural gas has the potential to provide the United States with low cost, clean and secure energy throughout the 21st century. Thus, a significant amount of attention should be given to developing advanced technologies for the production of this valuable clean energy resource.
Enhanced Biogas Production in an Anaerobic Digester – Dr. Stephen Ritchie
Biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, is a natural by‐product of the anaerobic digestion process. Anaerobic digestion is commonly used at municipal wastewater treatment plants because it produces a lower volume of sludge compared to aerobic digestion. In the proposed project, the student will work with a lab‐scale anaerobic digester to produce biogas from waste activated sludge.
Environmental Catalysis – Dr. Alan Lane
Hydrogen is an important energy carrier that can be used directly in fuel cells for generating electricity. Currently, most hydrogen is generated by reforming fossil fuels. An important step in the synthesis is purification to remove the carbon monoxide that poisons the fuel cell catalyst.
Evaluating Capabilities of Flux Aircraft for Monitoring Large-Scale Carbon Sequestration in Subsurface Formations – Dr. Derek Williamson
Large-scale subsurface sequestration is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Energy, the power industries, and many others. While some research has examined local scale monitoring to determine if leakage is occurring, very few investigations of large-scale monitoring of possible fugitive emissions of CO2 have been performed. The Environmental Protection Agency is being tasked with developing regulations for operating and monitoring of sequestration facilities.
Experimental & Computational Design of High-Performance Organic Materials for CO2 Capture – Dr. Jason E. Bara
Many types of liquid, polymer and hybrid materials have been reported for gas treating applications that are critical components of the energy industry. These materials are used to remove contaminant or “acid” gases in post-combustion CO2 capture (CO2/N2 separation), pre-combustion CO2 capture (CO2/H2 separation) and natural gas treating (CO2/CH4 and H2S/CH4 separation). However, given the large number of possible materials, it is impractical to experimentally measure the properties of each candidate. Thus, a parallel approach is needed wherein computers are used to guide the screening process.
Hydrophobic Pollutant Removal from Water – Dr. Yuping Bao and Dr. C. Heath Turner
Water pollution is a great concern to the public, and the pollution is often a mixture of both organic and inorganic contaminants. Hydrophobic organic contaminants are often introduced into the groundwater and the environment as a result of industrial spills, such as the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected that many years will be required for the environment to recover, and the low water solubility of these oil components delay the recovery. It is a great challenge to remove the oil efficiently, without disturbing the ecosystem.
Liquid Biofuel Production from Wastewater Treatment Plant Biosolids – Dr. Stephen Ritchie
The goal of reduced dependence on fossil fuels will require alternative biofuels beyond corn‐based ethanol. Biosolids (sludge) from wastewater treatment processes are a negative‐value feedstock and can be digested by bacteria to form various oxygenates that are soluble in gasoline and diesel. Blends up to 50% are possible in existing diesel engines making this a very promising biofuel.
Membrane Technology for Biodiesel Production – Dr. Stephen Ritchie
The conventional process for synthesis of biodiesel involves intense mixing to get sufficient contact between two immiscible phases: oil and methanol. This mixing is energy‐intensive and kinetically, very slow. We propose that this step in the biodiesel production process can be significantly accelerated and that the intense mixing can be eliminated by introducing functionalized membranes into the process.
Molecular Simulation of CO2 Adsorbents and CO2 Separation Membranes – Dr. Heath Turner
The efficient capture of CO2 from industrial power generation sources is a major challenge. Current studies are investigating the adsorption of CO2 into ionic liquids (ILs). Imidazolium-based ILs have received a great deal of attention for CO2 capture due to their unique physical properties. However, it has recently been reported that imidazoles – neutral counterparts to imidazolium-based ILs – can offer enhancements in viscosity, cost and CO2 capacity.
Nanostructures for Enhanced Solid-State Thermoelectric Power Generation – Dr. Hung-Ta Wang
Around 60% of total annual use energy in the U.S. (~100 quads) is rejected as heat. Therefore, recovering waste heat for power generations via an efficient means has become an imperative engineering task. In principle, solid-state thermoelectric generators (TEGs) are analog to thermal engines and particularly suitable for scavenging waste heat because they are compact, scalable, quiet, and no carbon emission.
Simulation of Electrochemical Energy Conversion: Fuel Cells – Dr. C. Heath Turner
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) hold a great deal of promise for converting hydrocarbon fuels into electricity. The conversion efficiency at nearly 70% is significantly higher than conventional heat engines, and if H2 is used as the fuel, electrical power can be generated without CO2 emissions.
Simulation of Electrochemical Energy Storage: Pseudocapacitors – Dr. C. Heath Turner
The electrification of the automobile represents one of the biggest fundamental shifts in the auto industry during the past 100 years, and this represents a great technological opportunity for the United States. In a recent study, the U.S. ranked first in the electric-vehicle index, ranking ahead of France, Germany, China and other Western European countries, which have all invested heavily into the development of clean energy technologies. Ultimately, this transformation represents an effort to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency.
Synthesis, Characterization and Fabrication of Nanocrystal-Based Solar Cells – Dr. Arunava Gupta
With ever increasing demand for clean energy, the fabrication of low cost and high efficiency photovoltaic devices has attracted considerable attention in recent years. Among different types of photovoltaic devices, inorganic photovoltaic cells have exhibited the highest solar energy conversion efficiency, but at the expense of high fabrication cost. In particular, A+B3+X2-2 semiconductors of the I-III-VI2 family, such as CuInxGa1-xS2, are of considerable interest for use as light-emitting diodes, photovoltaic cells, and nonlinear optical devices. Colloidal suspensions of the nanocrystals are attractive for use as inks for low-cost fabrication of thin film solar cells by spin or spray coating.
Understanding the Role of Clathrate Hydrates in Porous Media – Dr. Ryan Hartman
Clathrate hydrates have gained scientific interest in recent years because of their impact on a number of societal issues, such as current energy production, the potential for energy storage, climate change, and future sources of energy. Conservative estimates suggest that the amount of methane trapped in hydrate formations worldwide is equivalent to at least twice of the amount of energy in all other fossil fuels combined, which demands a general understanding of hydrate science.