Sustainable Energy Production

Sustainable production, storage and transportation of renewable energy are among the greatest challenges of the 21st century. BMCE department has many stimulating research avenues to offer in this arena. The department has identified environmentally benign conversion of biomass into fuels and chemicals, sustainable feedstocks and separation techniques for biofuel production and protein/metabolic engineering for biofuel applications as strategic growth areas in which search for new faculty is underway. Many opportunities for collaborative research exist as well with the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. In addition, faculty research includes developing efficient chemical routes to the production of diesel fuel and robust manufacturing of nanomaterials for efficient harvesting of solar energy. Examples of specific projects are given below.

Biodiesel production

Sustainable biodiesel fuel production will provide a major component to our fuel needs by harnessing feed stocks that do not compete with food sources. These include oils from algae, jatropha seeds, switch grass, animal fats, and animal waste from farms, amongst others. The Tavlarides lab is employing supercritical technology which can be used to extract oils from these sources and are developing a supercritical transesterification (ST) processs technology to convert the oils to biodiesel which includes power co generation. This method avoids many disadvantages of the acid/base catalyzed transesterification methods. ST converts the oil at high temperatures (350-400 oC) and pressures (200-300 bar) at modest residence times (3-10 min) and alcohol to oil molar ratios (6-12). Major advantages of the method are that glycerol decomposition occurs and the byproducts are useful fuel components, and high levels of free fatty acids can be tolerated in the feed. An economic study indicates that the processing costs are ~ half those of the conventional catalytic transesterification methods for a 5 million gallon per year plant capacity. The Tavlarides research group intend to build a pilot plant to demonstrate the process and resolve design issues. Ongoing and future studies include modeling the thermodynamic properties, kinetic studies of the SC reactions, extraction of lipids from algae, reactor design studies, and plant design issues.

Representative publications

Deshpande, A., Anitescu, G., Rice, P. A., Tavlarides, L. L. Supercritical Biodiesel Production and Power Cogeneration: Technical and Economic Feasibilities. Bioresource Technology (2009), 101(6), March , 1834-1843, 2010.

Anitescu, G., Tavlarides L. L. Integrated Multistage Supercritical Technology to Produce High Quality Vegetable Oils and Biofuels. (Syracuse University), Intl. Patent Appl. WO 2008101200 A2 20080821, Sept.18, 2009.

Anitescu, G., Tavlarides L. L. Integrated Multistage Supercritical Technology to Produce High Quality Vegetable Oils and Biofuels. (Syracuse University), Intl. Patent Appl. WO 2008101200 A2 20080821, Sept. 18, 2009.

Marulanda, V. F., Anitescu, G., Tavlarides, L. L. Biodiesel Fuels through a Continuous Flow Process of Chicken Fat Supercritical Transesterification. Energy & Fuels (2009), 24(1),255-260, 2010.

Nanomaterials for Thin Film Photovoltaics

Harnessing Sun’s energy for powering our planet has long been a dream of scientists and engineers. Despite the universal appeal and growing usage of solar energy systems across the globe, notably in developing economies, the efficiency of energy conversion has remained well below desirable levels for commercial installations. This is especially a major concern for new generation photovoltaics, which utilize a thin film (~ 1 micron thick) of the photoactive material. In this case, traditional light trapping techniques such as optical gratings (~ several microns) employed for cells based on bulk photoconductors are not applicable. Metallic nanocomposites offer much promise in efficient and cost-effective solar energy harvesting especially for thin film photocells. The central idea is to exploit the plasmonic interaction between electromagnetic waves and the localized oscillations of the free electron gas density at the nanoparticle-dielectric interface. From a renewable energy perspective, plasmonics principles can be used to tailor the spectral response of a material to fit applications such as broadband solar absorption and photo-bioreactor design. This is accomplished by manipulating the particle size, aspect ratio and volume fraction as well as utilizing hybridization techniques (e.g. core-shell materials, multi-metal composites). Research in this area focuses on two aspects of the problem: (i) the design and optimization of such materials and (ii) robust and economically viable manufacturing routes for such materials.

Representative publications

  1. Garcia, R. Kalyanaraman & R. Sureshkumar, Nonlinear optical properties of multi-metal nanocomposites in a glass matrix, J. Phys. B-Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics, 42, 175401 (2009)

Genetic engineering and biofilm engineering for improved biofuel production

One major challenge in biofuel production by microbial fermentation is the toxicity of the products. Ren lab is interested in improving microbial solvent tolerance through genetic engineering and biofilm engineering. Such systems are ideal for understanding bacterial solvent tolerance and for economical production of regenerative biofuels.

Biofuel Production

  1. Collaborative Research: Rational design of bifunctional catalysts for the conversion of levulinic acid to gamma-valerolactone

    The Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program in the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems at the National Science Foundation supports Professor Andreas Heyden from the University of South Carolina and Professor Jesse Q. Bond from Syracuse University to establish the underlying science that can make feasible the production of the lignocellulosic biomass-derived platform chemical, γ-valerolactone (GVL), on a commercial scale. GVL is a promising and extremely flexible intermediate, from which numerous desirable end-products can be obtained. As such it provides pathways to renewable transportation fuels, polymers, and specialty chemicals. Despite a myriad of applications for GVL, its large scale production is not yet established, owing largely to difficulties associated with the purification of its immediate precursor, levulinic acid (LA), which is readily prepared from many classes of lignocellulosic biomass (agricultural residues, cellulose fines, urban paper waste, etc.) through dilute acid hydrolysis. In the present state of the art, LA must undergo a costly purification scheme prior to conversion to GVL. The research performed in this program intends to streamline this step, thus making the entire strategy more industrially relevant. Using a combined computational and experimental approach, we will obtain fundamental understanding of the reaction mechanism of the mild, heterogeneously catalyzed hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of LA to GVL over Ru/C and RuRe/C catalysts in both aqueous and dilute sulfuric acid solutions. We aim to understand the specific effects of sulfuric acid on the reaction mechanism and the role of Re in bimetallic catalysts. Further, a microkinetic model will be developed to permit identification of rate and selectivity determining steps as well as practical activity and selectivity descriptors that can be transferred to the design of realistic supported bimetallic catalysts. Successful outcomes will demonstrate that, bimetallic catalysts can offer superior performance in the selective conversion of LA to GVL in the harsh environments characteristic of biomass conversion (e.g., dilute sulfuric acid). Further, we anticipate that results from tightly integrated experimental and computational studies will allow rational design of novel catalysts for HDO of LA under realistic industrial conditions.
  2. Design of an intensified, modular system enabling production of jet fuel from γ-valerolactone.

    The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is supporting research directed toward streamlining the efficiency of jet fuel production from bio-based intermediates. Our primary focus in this program is the design of stable solid acids catalysts that allow process intensification of decarboxylation and subsequent oligomerization of γ-valerolactone (GVL) and its derivatives. Coke-deposition is problematic during high-temperature decarboxylation of valerolactone, leading to rapid catalyst deactivation and frequent regeneration cycles. By developing an understanding of the relationship between surface acidity and coke formation, we can support the design of targeted materials that deliver stable on-stream operation, minimize downtime, and improve the energy efficiency of jet-fuel production through this strategy.