Bala Subramaniam

School of Engineering - Chemical & Petroleum Engineering
Dan F. Servey Distinguished Professor
Primary office:
785-864-2903
Learned Hall
Room 4156
University of Kansas
1530 West 15th Street
Lawrence, KS 66045
Second office:
785-864-2903
Wakarusa Research Facility
Room A110



Summary

Education

Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of Notre Dame

M.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Notre Dame

B. Tech., Chemical Engineering, A. C. College of Technology, University of Madras

Teaching

Teaching Interests

  • Chemical engineering kinetics and reactor design
  • Mass transfer
  • Mathematical methods in chemical engineering
  • Industrial development of sustainable catalytic processes
  • Chemical engineering unit operations laboratories
  • Undergraduate and graduate courses.

Research

The modern day 'petrochemical' refinery relies primarily on fossil-based feedstock (such as petroleum, natural gas and coal) to produce the essential chemical intermediates for everyday products (medicines, packaging materials, synthetic fibers, detergents, coolants, etc.). To meet the sharply increasing global demand for such products, alternate feedstocks such as plant-based biomass and shale gas are also being considered to make these chemical intermediates. These alternate sources, however, require the development of new technologies. Our research is focused on developing resource-efficient technologies, which conserve feedstock and energy, for both conventional and emerging sources. We address this challenge by discovering catalysts that selectively transform the feedstock to desired products minimizing waste, using tunable solvents that provide both reaction benefits and environmental benefits such as reduced toxicity and carbon footprints, and developing novel reactors that are energy-efficient in converting raw materials to products. Working in collaboration with several industry partners of the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC), we have demonstrated such novel alternative technologies for many important chemical intermediates. In addition to economic assessment, we also perform cradle-to-grave life cycle analysis (LCA) of the new technologies to assess environmental performance and sustainability. One such technology for making ethylene oxide (a plastic precursor) received a prestigious award from the American Chemical Society. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a global leader in agricultural processing, recently opened research operations in Lawrence, KS to work closely with University of Kansas CEBC researchers to develop technologies that convert ADM's myriad plant-based feedstocks to value-added products. Such collaborations have been augmented by funding from federal agencies (US Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation and Environmental Protection Agency) to the tune of nearly $17 million since 2011. The development of such technologies has significant economic implications for the State of Kansas given its unique mix of natural resources that include not only plant-based biomass but also natural gas, crude oil and wind energy potential. A manufacturing sector built around these resources can be thriving and make Kansas among the global leaders in the manufacture and export of "renewable chemicals".

More details of the research program and a list of selected publications may be found in the "Research Interests" section of this website.

Research Interests

  • Catalysis and reaction engineering for resource-efficient chemicals/fuels production from conventional and biomass feedstocks
  • Exploiting supercritical and gas-expanded liquids in crystallization and benign chemicals/fuels processing

Service

I have been active in service activities at both the University of Kansas and the professional societies [American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Chemical Society (ACS)]. I especially like roles where I am able to contribute to transformational changes that have long-term beneficial impacts on the institutions I serve.

I have served as graduate advisor of the chemical and petroleum engineering (C&PE) department to streamline graduate advising, curricular and graduate recruitment activities. Later on, I served as department chair when the C&PE faculty implemented a five-year strategic plan with positive outcomes including the creation of a NSF engineering research center [the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, CEBC], increased external research funding, the addition of five new faculty lines for interdisciplinary initiatives in the areas of catalysis and bioengineering, and the successful mentoring and nominations of several faculty for teaching and research awards.

As CEBC director, a unique industry partnership program was implemented. In partnership with member companies (that have included ADM, BASF Catalysts, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Phillips, DuPont, Eastman Chemicals, Evonik, ExxonMobil, Grace, Invista, Procter&Gamble, Novozymes, Reliance Industries, SABIC, SI Group, and UOP), the CEBC is developing and providing licensing opportunities for novel sustainable technologies related to fuels and chemicals.

Since its inception, the CEBC has launched several multidisciplinary research initiatives dealing with sustainable catalysis for producing fuels and chemicals with funding from federal, state and industry sources. The total funding from these sources exceeds $50 million since 2003. These successes have resulted in the addition of several faculty members in the chemistry and C&PE departments. I chaired the recruitment of several of the current C&PE faculty members in the areas of catalysis, reactor engineering and materials science. I serve as mentor to several of the young faculty members recruited as part of these initiatives.

For nearly two decades, I have been active in external professional service focused on facilitating sustainable practices in the chemical process industries, including the use of biomass as a renewable feedstock to produce chemicals and fuels. I have served on several national and regional technical panels including the NSF/EPA panels on environmentally benign processing, and the Midwest Biomass Research & Development Initiative Roadmap panel. I served as the President of the International Symposia for Chemical Reaction Engineering (ISCRE, Inc.) during 2011-2012, and currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society (ORCS). I have served on the scientific and organizing committees of several international symposia in catalysis and reaction engineering, co-chairing the 18th International Symposium on Chemical Reaction Engineering (ISCRE-18, Chicago, 2004), the 2nd North American Symposium on Chemical Reaction Engineering (NASCRE-2, Houston, 2007) and the 2nd and 3rd Joint India-U.S. Chemical Engineering Conference on Energy and Sustainability (Chandigarh, 2008; Mumbai, 2013).

I currently serve as Associate Editor of ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, a new ACS journal launched to archive research advances in sustainability-related research in the chemistry and chemical engineering disciplines. I also serve on the editorial boards of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research (past), Applied Catalysis B, Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering Technology.


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