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2019 Featured Research: Energy and Sustainable Engineering

Principal Investigator

Mitigating air pollution with nature-based solutions

Discovery:  A team led by Bhavik Bakshi demonstrated that nature-based solutions such as vegetation can be more cost-effective than technology-based solutions for mitigating air pollution. This is true in many counties across the U.S. and for several economic activities.

Impact:  The potential benefits of explicitly accounting for the role played by ecosystems in supporting industrial activities and seeking synergies between technological and ecological systems include significant cost savings while conserving and protecting valuable natural resources. The results of this study could encourage sustainable engineering by shifting the engineering paradigm from taking nature for granted to accounting for it and respecting its limits.

This work received media coverage in multiple outlets and numerous citations. From the Altemetric journal website: “Altmetric has tracked 14,222,420 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these this one has done particularly well and is in the 99th percentile: it's in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.”

Research Highlights:

  • Funding:  National Science Foundation.
  • Publication:  Environmental Science and Technology, 53.22, pp. 13228–13237, (2019).
  • Recognition:
    • AIChE, 2019 Lawrence K. Cecil Award in Environmental Engineering; Cecil Lecture, AIChE Annual Meeting, Orlando.
    • AIChE, 2019 Sustainable Engineering Forum Education Award.
    • Interviews on WCMH TV, WV public radio, Sirius XM radio and other media outlets.

Heterogeneous catalysts for selective biomass conversion

Innovation:  Nicholas Brunelli created aminosilica materials capable of selective isomerization of glucose to fructose. This novel design of a bifunctional heterogeneous catalyst increases selective dehydration of fructose to HMF.

Impact:  Combined catalysts would enable production of HMF, the most important target for biomass valorization.

Research Highlights:

  • Publication:  AIChE Futures, AIChE Journal.
  • Recognition:
    • Organic Reactions Catalysis Society, 2019 Robert Augustine Award.
    • RSC Reaction Chemistry and Engineering, 2019 Emerging Investigator Award.
    • The Ohio State University College of Engineering, 2019 Lumley Research Award.

More efficient, safer fracking

Impact:  Ilham El-Monier's studies in microstructure diagnosis can help to optimize fracking and achieve sustainable hydrocarbon production. By diagnosing microstructures, shorter operation times and maximum productivity can occur in an environmentally-friendly manner.  Publication: Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, Vol. 183, (2019)

Development of highly efficient mesoporous silica-supported nanoparticle oxygen carrier

Innovation:  Liang-Shi (L.-S.) Fan's new oxygen carrier enables a near 100% CO selectivity with high recyclability at a significantly lower temperature range than in conventional oxygen carrier systems. 

Impact:  The value of product selectivity is so far the highest observed for chemical looping systems. These findings contribute to a nanoscale understanding of the underlying metal oxide redox chemistry for chemical looping processes, and provide a systematic strategy toward the design of robust oxygen carrier nanoparticles with superior activity and selectivity at a broader operating temperature window.

Scaleup of carbon-dioxide-reducing process transforming shale gas into products

Innovation:  Professor Fan is scaling up his process that transforms shale gas into products such as methanol and gasoline—all while consuming carbon dioxide. This process can also be applied to coal and biomass to produce useful products.

Impact:  This process provides a potential industrial use for carbon dioxide as a raw material for producing useful, everyday products. Traditionally, when carbon dioxide is scrubbed from power plant exhaust, it is intended to be stored underground to keep it from entering the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Using Fan's method, some of the scrubbed carbon dioxide would be transformed to useful products at low cost and high energy efficiencies.


Research Highlights:

  • Publications:
    • Nature Communications 10, no. 1, 1-6 (2019). A Nature Communications Editors' Highlights webpage featured the article on the Nature Communications homepage as well as on a dedicated page (
  • Patents:
    • 3 patents filed in 2019
  • Funding:
  • Recognition:
    • A Special Issue in Powder Technology in Honor of Professor L.-S. Fan, 2019.
    • Indian National Academy of Engineering, elected Foreign Fellow, 2019.
    • Invited lecture, ETH Zurich, “Granular Materials and Multiphase Reaction Engineering: a Gateway to Novel Energy Conversion Systems," April 2019.
    • Opening Plenary Lecture, UK/China International Particle Technology Forum VII, July 2019.
    • Opening Plenary Lecture, 14th International Conference on Gas-Liquid and Gas-Liquid-Solid Reactor Engineering, Guilin, China, May 2019. 
    • Banquet Speaker, 16th International Fluidization Conference, Guilin, China, May 2019.

Increased understanding of ion conductivity

Research: Lisa Hall's group applied their recently developed coarse-grained model of salt-doped diblock copolymers to understand why ion conductivity can increase with molecular weight. Across a variety of systems with different chemical parameters, ion conductivity was explained well by the degree of local ion agglomeration.

Impact:  By detailing the underlying reasons for decreased ion conduction in certain salt-doped copolymer systems, we can help guide design of more effective battery electrolytes.

Research Highlights:

  • Publication: 
    • JACS, 141, 18455–18466, (2019)
  • Funding:  
    • Department of Energy
    • National Science Foundation.

Membranes for H2 Purification and CO2 Capture

Innovation:  W.S. Winston Ho's group has synthesized and demonstrated novel amine-containing membranes capable of possessing high CO2 permeability and CO2/H2 and CO2/N2 selectivities at relatively high temperatures (100 – 180oC) for H2 purification for fuel cells and CO2 capture from flue gas in coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. 




Impact:  His group was the first to elucidate the unusual phenomenon of both permeability and selectivity increases with temperature and to demonstrate the effect of amine steric hindrance in the solid membrane, showing significant enhancement for CO2 transport. They also showed the membranes stable to 1 – 5 ppm sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in real flue gas. 

One of the membranes is being commercialized by Bloom Energy for zero carbon electricity generation with solid oxide fuel cells, and another is being demonstrated in commercial-size 8-inch diameter membrane modules for flue gas CO2 capture with support of more than $3.7 million from DOE, American Electric Power, and Ohio. The latter can capture carbon dioxide at a lower price than ever before, around $40 per metric ton, and an even lower cost of less than $30 can be achieved, if it only captures 70 percent of the carbon dioxide. This efficiency could attract more industry interest in applying carbon capture technology to flue gas exhaust.

Research Highlights:

  • Funding:  DOE-NETL, ODSA, AEP 
  • Publications:
    • J. Membr. Sci., doi:10.1016/j.memsci.2018.12.028, 573, 476-484 (2019);
    • J. Membr. Sci., doi:10.1016/j.memsci.2019.01.024, 575, 242-251 (2019);
    • Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., doi:10.1021/acs.iecr.9b04839 (2019; invited);
    • J. Polym. Eng., doi:10.1515/polyeng-2019-0298 (2019; invited);
    • J. Membr. Sci., doi:10.1016/j.memsci.2019.117504 (2019).
  • Patents: Four patents issued, 11 submitted
  • Recognition:
    • International Scientific Committee, Invited Member, 12th International Congress on Membranes and Membrane Processes, London, UK (scheduled: December 2020)
    • 8th Symposium for Innovative CO2 Membrane Separation Technology, Invited Keynote Lecture, "New Amine-Based Facilitated Transport Membranes for CO2 Capture, Tokyo, Japan, January 2019.

Improved materials for ammonia synthesis

Umit Ozkan and researchers Seval Gunduz and Dhruba Deka developed improved materials for ammonia synthesis, for which a patent was filed.

Ozkan and researchers Kuldeep Mamtani and Deeksha Jain also filed a patent for “Heteroatom doped Carbon Nanostructures for Electrocatalytic Halogen Production."

Research Highlights:

  • Honors:  An endowed professorship in CBE was created in the name of Umit S. Ozkan with funds from a private donor.
  • Publications:  Catalysis Today: Honored by a special issue, Volume 323, 270 pages, (2019).
  • Patents:  Two patents filed in 2019-20.
  • Service:  International Conference Organization, 17th International Congress on Catalysis, San Diego, CA, June 2020. (Vice-Chair, Organizing Committee). This is the largest international meeting in catalysis, which is held every four years.

Insight into heteogeneous condensation of CO2 onto alkane nanodroplets

Discovery:  Barbara Wyslouzil explored the heterogeneous condensation of CO2 onto alkane nanodroplets and found that CO2 does not condense until the pressures and temperatures are close to CO2’s extrapolated vapor-liquid equilibrium line and the alkane particles have started to freeze. Depending on the formation process, the resultant particles can adopt a core-shell structure or have CO2 domains in the form of cubes or needles.

Impact:  Natural gas can contain significant amounts of CO2 as well as higher hydrocarbons. Supersonic separation is an alternative method to remove condensable material from natural gas. Understanding how and when different constituents in the mixture condense is important to improving the design and operation of these devices.

Research Highlights:

  • Publications:  Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, Journal of Chemical Physics
  • Journal of Chemical Physics, Editors' Choice Lecture, American Physical Society March meeting: “Nucleation of the short-chain n-alkanes from the vapor phase: Experiments and Monte Carlo simulations.” 
  • ETHZ (top technical university in Switzerland), Guest professorship, 2019.