Two Voiland School researchers have received young faculty awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Jean-Sabin McEwen and Steven R. Saunders, both assistant professors, each received approximately $500,000. Their awards are intended to provide significant research support to young faculty beginning their careers.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have developed a catalyst that easily converts bio-based ethanol to a widely used industrial chemical, paving the way for more environmentally friendly, bio-based plastics and products.
The researchers have published a paper online describing the catalyst in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jacs.5b07401) and have been granted a U.S. patent.
Greg Collinge, graduate student and ARCS scholar, who works with professor Jean-Sabin McEwen in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering conducting research in computational catalytic chemistry was recently awarded a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.
The researchers develop atom-scale models of catalysts and reactions to better understand how they work. Catalysts are used in many chemical processes, including biofuels, plastics and hydrogen production. Collinge is working specifically to improve the Fischer-Tropsch reaction, a process to create chemicals and fuels from carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University has entered into an agreement with Shandong Chambroad Holding Company Ltd., a private Chinese corporation, to educate WSU doctoral students to meet significant societal needs in energy and environment.
The corporation will provide up to $5 million to support five new students each year, up to a total of 20 students simultaneously, in chemical engineering, chemistry or materials science and engineering.
The privately run company started in 1991 and employs about 11,000 people in Boxing, China. Chambroad is engaged in petrochemicals, fine chemicals, culture and arts, education, agriculture and strategic investment..
A WSU team led by Vice President for Research Chris Keane and Vice President for International Programs Asif Chaudhry reached the agreement on a trip to China in January.
Support for studies in energy, environment
The Chambroad Distinguished Fellowship will provide graduate student and research support in the area of catalysis, a critical component of the manufacturing sector, especially in the production of high energy fuels and household chemicals.
Catalysts contribute more than 35 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). They are important in food production because fertilizer and pesticide production requires up to two percent of the world’s energy.
They are also important for environmental systems management, such as for vehicle emissions, and for production of many everyday products, said Jim Petersen, director of the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. Improving catalyst efficiency is important for increasing supplies, reducing costs and decreasing environmental impacts of petroleum-based and alternative fuels, he added.
With significant support from Gene (‘69, ChemE) and Linda Voiland, WSU’s program in catalysis has grown significantly in the past five years, nearly tripling student enrollment and research expenditures. The program benefits from extensive collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Voiland Distinguished Professors Yong Wang and Norbert Kruse hold joint appointments at PNNL.
Next-generation leaders meeting global challenges
“This partnership fits squarely within our university’s goals and mission and promises to address society’s biggest global challenges at the nexus of food, energy and the environment,” said Keane. “We look forward to working with Chambroad in training students to become our next generation leaders in addressing these pressing scientific challenges.”
The fellowship program will allow students to work collaboratively with WSU researchers. Research areas will be focused on energy conversion, carbon capture technology and utilization, and petrochemical conversion with the goal of creating economical, dependable and environmentally sustainable systems, said Petersen.
“This collaborative agreement provides a foundation for a multidimensional partnership between WSU and Chambroad to provide education and research that will strategically contribute to the advancement of society,” said Chaudhry. “As such, it represents an example of the impact that international collaborations can have on the world.”
The program will be supported by WSU’s Office of Research, Office of International Programs and Graduate School.
“Chambroad has a strong culture of teamwork and giving back that fits nicely with WSU’s land-grant heritage of applied and practical research to enhance the economy and improve quality of life,” said Keane. “I believe this partnership will strengthen our programs while producing high-impact research with real-world applications.”
Four students in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering will have the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research, thanks to support from the DeVlieg Foundation and the Weyerhaeuser Company.
As part of the scholarship awards, the students will work with faculty mentors throughout the year and will then present their work at conferences and/or at WSU’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) in April. The students received support to conduct research in the area of alternative fuels and renewable energy.
Weyerhaeuser is a partner in the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and is supporting research related to biomass conversion to useable fuel. Using a variety of feedstocks from construction waste to forest residues, NARA is working to create a sustainable industry in aviation biofuels and co-products. The DeVlieg Foundation awards also support undergraduate research in renewable energy.
The award winners include the following:
Junior Zoey Henson will work with Professor Grant Norton, dean of the Honors College. Using a novel experimental method, she will assess the success of catalytic reactions within a solid oxide fuel cell. The researchers hope the new technique leads to more successful reactions, a better fuel cell, and, eventually, better clean energy alternatives.
Jake Gray, senior, is working with Professor Su Ha on methods for improving a catalytic reaction without increasing reactor temperatures. In particular, Gray will be looking at the effects of applying an electric field to a nickel catalyst during the reformation of methane, an important process which produces approximately 95 percent of the world’s hydrogen. In practical applications, this electrical field could be supplied using renewable energy sources. Because process heating and cooling are extremely energy-expensive, replacing this requirement with a cheaper, cleaner alternative will remove hurdles facing the sustainability of hydrogen fuel cells.
Junior Felix Nwanne will work with Professor Xiao Zhang at WSU Tri Cities. Nwanne is working with Zhang on research relating to biomass conversion to useable fuel and energy resources, including bio-energy and bio-products.
Gunnar Hoff, a senior, is working with Professor Su Ha to try new techniques to improve the power density of an enzymatic biofuel cell that uses glucose as a fuel source. Future energy supplies will depend on the design of green, sustainable, and efficient systems for the conversion of clean and cheap energy sources. Enzymatic biofuel cells represent one approach to clean energy production. Instead of expensive metal catalysts, biofuel cells can use renewable enzymes as the catalysts.