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Uber-successful undergrad files patent, publishes three articles

Charlie Fryer, Class of 2017Charlie Fryer, CBE Class of 2017

NOTE:  This story was featured on the OSU.EDU homepage from January 29-February 4, 2018. Check it out!


Anyone who works in education and has taught or mentored chemical engineering students knows that they are a rare breed. They tend to be driven by curiosity, blessed with analytical proficiencies in math and science -- and often, an uncanny ability to organize their activities with precision and consistency. These qualities, together with their competitiveness and strong desire to succeed, often take them to amazing places.

Even so, it isn’t every undergrad who not only publishes their research, but files a patent.

Meet Charlie Fryer.

Charlie, who graduated Autumn Semester, has done both.

The achievement is so rare that the department actually created a new award to honor it. At last year’s spring honors banquet, Charlie was the inaugural recipient of the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering’s Undergraduate Patents / Publishing Award. Around the same time, Charlie also won first place in the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum in the Engineering-Process & Systems category.

The pending patent, “Chemical Looping Syngas Production from Carbonaceous Fuels,” is for a modular chemical looping process that can utilize a CO2 feedstock as a partial substitute for natural gas and leverage the corresponding syngas production nonlinearities to minimize the overall natural gas consumption. As compared to a conventional full-scale gas-to- liquid plant, this process can significantly reduce natural gas consumption, while operating under CO2 neutral conditions. 

Charlie is also a co-author on three scientific journal articles. The first article, published in Energy & Environmental Science, was featured on the journal’s cover and has been cited five times as of November, 2017. A second article appeared in the AICHE Journal and has one citation. A third article in Energy & Fuel is under peer review.

In addition, Charlie holds the unique honor of being the only undergraduate member of Professor L.-S. Fan’s research team while Dr. Fan was writing his new book, “Chemical Looping Particle Oxidation: Gasification, Reforming, and Chemical Synthesis,” published by Cambridge University Press just this fall. Charlie is listed as a co-author.

The successes have been something of a surprise for Charlie, who started out as a chemistry major. He switched to chemical engineering at the end of his sophomore year, when he found that his studies were focusing more on chemistry and less on math, one of his key skills.

After beginning his studies in chemical engineering, he wanted to get some real-world experience for what he was learning in the lab, so he applied for a research assistant position with Dr. Fan, whom he knew was impactful worldwide.

Initially, he did simulations on the gas > liquid chemicals process, working with another student, Abbey Empfield (Class of 2016), who was one of the inaugural recipients of the Edward Claugus (Class of 1981) scholarships funded by Ed’s generous 2015 bequest.

Charlie Fryer in the labCharlie Fryer in the labCharlie was collecting data in Aspen, running tests and analyzing them, when he realized that he could improve the chemical looping system efficiency by leveraging non-linear thermodynamic trends associated with syngas generation. When this modularization strategy- based chemical looping system is used to replace conventional gas to liquids syngas generation units, process simulations show that for the same amount of liquid fuel production natural gas consumption can be reduced by as much as 25%. 

“I never thought that anything like this would happen to me,” Charlie confessed. “I’m so grateful for the resources here, and for my mentors, who have been very generous with including me in the credits.”

“Dr. Fan is absolutely amazing, and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Mandar Kathe has been a key element of my entire research career at Ohio State. He’s been absolutely instrumental in all of my accomplishments,” Charlie said.

The prospect of making a discovery with the potential for significant impact was hard for Charlie to take in at first. “It was really exciting,” Charlie said. “I was obsessed with it for a good amount of time. I couldn’t  stop thinking about the implications of what I was working on!  I love nature and the environment, so working in clean energy is very important to me,” he added.

This winter, Charlie will begin his job at Exxon, working as part of a consulting team to process engineers around the world. “We’ll do equation-oriented modeling to determine possible solutions for them,” he explained. “I’m excited to get to work and begin to apply everything I’ve learned, and all my experiences to date, in this new situation.”

He credits personal networking with helping him to find the job. He talked to department alumni at the Graduate Resaerch Symposium and saw some of them later at the College of Engineering Career Fair. They encouraged him to apply and luckily, he got the job.

Working at Exxon will be a far cry from the job he held prior to working in Dr. Fan’s lab. Charlie worked as an Uber driver, and applied his engineering skills even in that position. “I optimized my pay rate and driving methodology using a MATLAB script file to analyze an Excel spreadsheet of driving metrics, for example, the current cost of gas, time of year, and location of trips,” he said. “After taking all that data into consideration, and given my academic time constraints, it was difficult for me to come ahead as a driver."

Just as well. Looks like he’s going to come out ahead in a lot of other areas instead.