Expertise and Current Research Activity
Sustainable technologies for making chemicals and fuels: The modern day 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 such as plant-based biomass and shale gas are also being considered.
Our research is focused on developing novel, resource-efficient technologies to make petrochemical equivalents from such emerging. Working in collaboration with several industry partners of the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC), we are developing technologies for making “renewable” chemicals from plant-based biomass. One such technology for making ethylene oxide (a plastic precursor) received a prestigious award from the American Chemical Society.
Further, “renewable chemicals” create far more value for a given feedstock compared to “renewable fuels” and can therefore thrive without government subsidy. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a global leader in agricultural processing, recently opened research operations in Lawrence, KS to work closely with University of Kansas 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 $15 million since 2009.
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”.
Why come to study your field at the University of Kansas?
The Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC) (https://www.cebc.ku.edu) at the University of Kansas was initiated under the prestigious National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centers (NSF-ERC) program, and is known for its multi-scale approach to delivering innovations and a unique industry collaboration model. During the last decade, the CEBC has partnered with many companies (including ADM, BASF Catalysts, Black&Veatch, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Phillips, DuPont, Eastman Chemicals, Evonik, ExxonMobil, Procter&Gamble, Novozymes, SI Group, UOP & Zeachem) to develop and provide licensing opportunities for novel sustainable technologies related to fuels and chemicals.
CEBC students (postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate) receive unique training in multidisciplinary systems-based research involving collaborations between academic and industrial researchers, including industrial internships. Students have the opportunity to perform cutting edge science and technology research under nationally and internationally recognized researchers and in a diverse community of fellow graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. A recent PhD graduate (Madhav Ghanta) was recognized by the American Chemical Society in 2010 with a George W. Hancock Green Chemistry award (one of two awards given annually) for his dissertation research related to the development of a CO2-free ethylene oxide technology.