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Reducing the Global Environmental Footprint of Food Production and Energy Generation via Sustainable Waste Valorization

Project Advisor
Professor Jillian Goldfarb -

Project Area/Concentration
Nanomaterials; Water Treatment; Catalyst

Project Description
The modern biorefinery could thermochemically produce sustainable fuels, but current hydrothermally liquefied (HTL) bio-oils are highly oxygenated and acidic, and in some cases highly aromatic. The proposed process uses a novel in situ upgrading approach to HTL that addresses these challenges. By leveraging synergistic reactions among heterogeneous waste streams (e.g. post-sorted municipal solid waste and agricultural residues) with inexpensive catalysts such as coal fly ash and clay minerals, we can maximize yields of alcohols, alkanes, and alkenes, while significantly reducing those of aromatics and acids. Using wet lignocellulosic wastes as biomass feedstocks minimizes the environmental impact of waste decomposition to greenhouse gases, reduces net CO2 emissions, and provides a potential revenue stream for carbonaceous wastes. The purpose of this project is to develop a framework to guide the selection of wet waste feedstocks, solid catalysts, and HTL conditions that result in biofuel precursors that have enhanced oxygen and nitrogen rejection with lower acidity and corrosivity than current processes.

Working alongside a Ph.D. one M.Eng. student will explore the key factors that lead to fuel upgrading. Students will learn a variety of materials fabrication and characterization techniques and analytical chemistry laboratory skills and will develop an understanding of the key bottlenecks in biofuel upgrading that we must overcome to implement a modern biorefinery. Please note: we do NOT use biological treatment methods (e.g. fermentation, digestion, etc.); our laboratory focuses on thermochemical methods (e.g. pyrolysis, liquefaction, gasification). Students with a background in Chemical, Environmental and/or Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry, and/or Materials Science will be best suited for this project. The ideal student for this project will be capable of working in a team with excellent communication skills, but have the independent motivation necessary to carry out a portion of this project on her/his own.

Figure 1. GCMS chromatogram of organic phase of hydrothermally liquefied municipal solid waste with 5wt% clay minerals.
  GCMS chromatogram of organic phase of hydrothermally liquefied municipal solid waste with 5wt% clay minerals.

Possible Courses

Course number Course title
AEP 6610 Nanocharacterization
BEE 6310 Multivariate Statistics for Environmental Applications
CEE 5921 Sustainable Engineering in Context
CEE 6530 Water Chemistry for Environmental Engineering
CEE 6550 Transport, Mixing, and Transformation in the Environment
CEE 6560 Physical/Chemical Process
CHEME 7110 Advanced Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics
CHEME 7130 Chemical Kinetics and Transport
CHEME 7310 Advanced Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer
MSE 5150 Structures and Materials for Sustainable Energy Systems
MSE 5550 Introduction to Composite Materials
MSE 5810 Materials Chemistry
MSE 5820 Mechanical Properties of Materials, Processing, and Design
MSE 5830 Thermodynamics of Condensed Systems
MSE 5840 Kinetics, Diffusion, and Phase Transformation
MSE 6010 Chemistry of Materials
MSE 6030 Thermodynamics of Materials
MSE 6210 Solid State Chemistry