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The Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

WSU Selected to Participate in Engineering Entrepreneurship Program Thanks to the Work of Howard Davis

Frank Fellows in Silicon Valley 2013: back row (l to r): Kyle Kline, Chris Routen, Dane Baird, Jordan Rehwaldt, Abdul Mohamed; front row (l to r): Dr. Howard Davis, Kelsi Lakey, Vi Tran, Branna Bence, Bettina Ernst
Frank Fellows in Silicon Valley 2013: back row (l to r): Kyle Kline, Chris Routen, Dane Baird, Jordan Rehwaldt, Abdul Mohamed; front row (l to r): Dr. Howard Davis, Kelsi Lakey, Vi Tran, Branna Bence, Bettina Ernst

Washington State University has been selected to participate in an innovative program to build entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education.

WSU is one of 25 U.S. institutions and one of only two schools in the Northwest selected by the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) to join the Pathways to Innovation Program. The program helps institutions incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education.

View full story at WSU Today ↗

AIChE Students Take Chemically Powered Car to National Convention

WSU Chemically Powered Car Team
WSU Chemically Powered Car Team
A group of WSU chemical engineering students traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month to participate in a national student conference and chemical car competition.

The students from WSU’s student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) secured a spot in the national student conference and chemical car competition on Nov. 14-17 after taking second place in last spring’s Pacific Northwest regional competition. The competition, which included 35 teams from around the U.S., requires that a chemically-powered car travel 25 meters while carrying a sizeable cargo and then stop as close as possible to the finish line. A group of WSU students originally developed the idea for the national AIChE competition more than a decade ago.

View the entire story at the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture ↗

Emily Davenport wins two awards at the Inland Northwest Micrograph Contest

Electrochemically-active bacteria growing on a graphite felt electrode
Conductive Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA on graphite felt electrode. A graphite felt electrode pulled from a bioelectrochemical reactor growing electrochemically-active bacteria, Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA. Fixation was performed with 2.5% gluteraldehyde and 2% paraformaldehyde in 0.1 M sodium phosphate buffer. Emily Davenport, Washington State University, 3rd – year Chemical Engineering, artistic category.

Emily Davenport, a WSU graduate student in chemical engineering, recently won two awards in the Inland Northwest Micrograph Contest for her micrographs for the research on electrochemically active biofilms. A biofilm is a group of microorganisms that have colonized a surface. These photos, taken through a scanning electron microscope, illustrate how biofilm structure and formation can facilitate the transfer of electrons and produce electricity. Davenport’s research focuses on the protective functions of a biofilm’s extracellular polymeric substance (EPS), a matrix of biomolecules produced by the biofilm. Davenport is especially interested in how EPS interacts with antibiotics used to treat infections. The Inland Northwest Micrograph Contest is an annual competition put on by the Materials Research Society of WSU.

Electrochemically-active bacteria growing on a graphite felt electrode
Conductive Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA biofilm on graphite felt electrode. A graphite felt electrode pulled from a bioelectrochemical reactor growing electrochemically-active bacteria, Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA. This intersection of fibers shows G. sulfurreducens growing away from the electrode, illustrating its ability to transfer electrons over a great distance to the electrode. Fixation was performed with 2.5% gluteraldehyde and 2% paraformaldehyde in 0.1 M sodium phosphate buffer. Emily Davenport, Washington State University, 3rd year – Chemical Engineering, scientific category.

“Conversion of Microalgae to Jet Fuel” Paper Recently Chosen for Cover of Bioresource Technology

Conversion of Microalgae to Jetfuels - Cultivation, Thermolysis, Hydrotreating | SimSci-Esscor PRO/II 9.1 | invensys“Conversion of Microalgae to Jet Fuel: Process Design and Simulation” by Hui-Yuan Wang, David Bluck, and Bernard J. Van Wie was recently selected as the cover story for the June 2014 edition of Bioresource Technology.

Accompanied by over-population and further industrialization, energy shortages are becoming the biggest challenge that our hydrocarbon-driven society will face in the near future. The non-renewability of fossil fuels will be the main impediment for energy sustainability in human society. At the same time, use of fossil fuels leads to a net production of CO2, a greenhouse gas believed to be directly related to global warming. In contrast, biomass is a renewable resource and carbon neutral in principle. The utilization of biomass as an energy feedstock is one of the most promising ways to reduce the energy dependence on non-renewable fossil resources and at the same time reduce the overall carbon footprint.

In the paper, the researchers show the utility of PRO/II software for simulating biomass related processes and use a PRO/II simulation to demonstrate the feasibility of jet fuel production from microalgae. They also use a PRO/II case study to show optimal hydrotreating conditions for making Jet B fuel and show that recovering hydrogen from the byproduct reforming adds up to 15 percent of the product’s value.

This work was partially supported by Schneider Electric S.A. (formerly Invensys Ltd.), the makers of Pro/II, through a project entitled “Pro II Simulation Comparison with Pilot Plant or Plant Data for Biomass Conversion to Biofuels” and partially by the Washington State University Agricultural Research Center though Hatch Project #WPN00807 entitled “Fundamental and Applied Chemical and Biological Catalysts to Minimize Climate Change, Create a Sustainable Energy Future, and Provide a Safer Food Supply” through the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institutes for Food and Agriculture program.

Making Plastics from Biomass, Not Fossil Fuels: Researchers review advances in catalysts that turn bioethanol into valuable chemicals

ACS Catalysis Cover: Biofuels to Plastics article featured with figure
The research of WSU professors Yong Wang and Junming Sun was featured in the April issue of ACS Catalysis.
Junming Sun
Junming Sun
Yong Wang
Yong Wang

PULLMAN, WA – Ethanol from garbage and other sources could replace fossil fuels in the manufacturing of plastics, rubber, and other chemicals if scientists can gain the needed knowledge of catalysis.

WSU Professors Yong Wang and Junming Sun are conducting research and have developed a one-step process for upgrading ethanol to isobutene, an important first step in turning bio-ethanol into other useful, petroleum-based products.

In an article which recently appeared in the journal ACS Catalysis, the researchers provided an overview of work to convert ethanol to valuable chemicals and identified future research directions, including one-step ethanol conversions. Wang is the Voiland Distinguished Professor in the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering as well as associate director at the Institute for Integrated Catalysis at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Sun is a research professor at WSU.

Renewable fuel requirements are increasing the availability and decreasing the cost of ethanol, with the production in the United States expected to reach more than 30 billion gallons in 2017.

With only 15 to 16 billion gallons needed for fuel blending, the additional alcohol could be used to produce plastic water bottles, carpet backing, and thousands of other products. Wang and Sun’s study provided a detailed summary of the research, giving scientists a needed overview.

“We need to de-bottleneck the process, from lignocellulose to the end products,” said Wang.

In the article, the team reviewed the progress made on deconstructing ethanol to provide hydrogen for use in proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Ethanol is of interest because of its easy-to-use form, nontoxicity, and high hydrogen content. Highly stable and selective catalysts, based on cobalt and other earth-abundant metals, appear promising for hydrogen production. Yet, efficiency and deactivation issues remain.

The team also discussed the production of light olefins, which can be used for building alkenes, alkanes, and aromatics, which are longer chained or ring-structured hydrocarbons. For example, producing the light olefin using gamma aluminum oxide is a commercial success. However, the reaction requires high temperatures when water is present. Questions remain, including the formatting of key intermediates, which inhibit the effective conversion of ethanol.

“Olefins are exciting because they are a nice platform molecule that can be further converted to other chemicals,” said Wang. “Essentially, the potential is great, but if you look at the current status, a significant amount of research is needed before commercialization.”

The researchers are continuing to better understand the catalysts and the reaction mechanisms involved, including the influence of impurities introduced with the bioethanol. They are also looking at the coupling thermochemical conversions to biological processes that produce the ethanol.

EMSL Highlights Enzyme Evaluation Research by Xiao Zhang and his Team

Targeted strategies improve efficacy of enzymes to convert biomass to biofuels
Targeted strategies improve efficacy of enzymes to convert biomass to biofuels
Xiao Zhang
Xiao Zhang
Biofuels are produced from plant-derived biomass through the breakdown of the plant cell wall, which contains sugars that can be used for energy. A considerable amount of effort has been directed to developing effective enzymes for degrading the cell wall, but the development of more efficient and cost-effective enzymes for biomass-to-biofuel conversion has been limited for several reasons. For one, it is not well understood how enzymes interact with biomass substrates, which have highly complex and heterogeneous physical and chemical properties. Moreover, there is a lack of adequate biomass model substrates for evaluating the efficacy of different enzymes.

To address this problem, researchers from Washington State University, in collaboration with scientists from EMSL, have developed a set of biomass reference substrates with controlled physical and chemical properties which can be used to identify specific deficiencies of cellulase enzymes in breaking down carbohydrate polymers. In a new study, the researchers used these reference substrates to test the effectiveness of three commercially available enzyme mixtures—Novozymes Cellic® Ctec2, Dupont Accellerase® 1500, and DSM Cytolase CL—using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction and an atomic force microscope at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE national scientific user facility.

View entire story at EMSL website

Light Up Your Holidays with Microbial Fuel Cell

Professor Haluk Beyenal with his water-powered Christmas tree
Professor Haluk Beyenal with his water-powered Christmas tree

PULLMAN, WA – A small Christmas tree on the Washington State University campus is drawing some extra attention, and it’s not because it’s covered in Cougar paraphernalia.

A professor set up the decoration to draw more interest to chemical engineering.

Now that the semester is over, it’s pretty quiet on the Washington State University Campus. But the Christmas spirit is stirring here in the chemical engineering department.

“Just the lights, attract the people, attract the students. Give them a spark,” said WSU Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Haluk Beyenal.

This tinsel tree isn’t very large or bright. But its lights are powered by a bucket of dirty water, and it helps Associate Professor Haluk Beyenal teach students about the transfer of electrons.

“When I start to talk about electron transfer, they got bored,” said Beyenal. “So I start with this microbial fuel cells and then talk about this Christmas tree, how it’s lit up.”

So here’s how it works. The microbial fuel cell is in this bucket of dirty water. The wires connect it to a circuit, which powers the lights.”

“Microbial fuel cell, it’s a device which converts chemical energy to electricity,” said Beyenal.

Beyenal said the fuel cells use bacteria in the dirt to constantly create a small amount of electricity, and that electricity can be stored to create a higher voltage less often.

“It depends how much power you want,” said Beyenal. “If you need less power, you can transfer it very often, if you need really high power, you can transfer it every one hour, maybe once in a day.”

He said devices like this could be used to monitor environmental conditions in bodies of water over long periods of time, without the hassle of having to change a battery.

“Everyone talks about global warming,” said Beyenal. “Ya, we are suspicious it is happening, but do we have enough data? In the past, we did not, and now we are developing tools to monitor environment.”

These microbial fuel cells have a long list of real-world applications, but Beyenal said they’re also useful for getting more students on campus interested in science.

“If we train them on new subjects and attract them to a science, it’s a good success,” said Beyenal. “It’s a success for us.”

This is the second year that the microbial fuel cell Christmas tree has been on display in the chemical engineering department, and they say they hope to put up a larger one next year.

View a video featuring Postdoctoral student, Jerome Babauta, describing the science behind the tree at the National Science Foundation’s Magazine, Science 360 ↗

View the full story and video at KLEW TV in Spokane ↗