The Food Energy & Water Laboratory for Sustainability is dedicated to fundamental and applied studies to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of processes that fuel our modern society. Our laboratory is focused particularly on thermodynamic and reaction engineering aspects pertaining to the Sustainable Production of Foods, Fuels & Chemicals, Polymer Recycling and Sustainable Refrigeration Systems.
SUSTAINABLE FOODS, FUELS & CHEMICALS
At FEWLS Research we work on fractionation and chemical/biochemical conversion of biogenic feedstocks to value-added products. Those products include bio-based drop-in fuels (e.g., jet fuel and diesel) and chemicals (e.g., olefins and other polymer precursors) and enhanced plant-based feed/food products. Our active areas of research encompass:
Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biogenic Feedstocks: At FEWLS we perform new catalyst synthesis and characterization, and focus on understanding the impact of factors such as 1) catalysts' structural morphology and surface chemistry, and 2) solvent interactions with the catalyst, reactants and product species, on reaction mechanisms, reaction rate, product yields and selectivity. We have active collaborations in this research space within the Institute for Sustainable Engineering, the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis at KU and with the National Chemical Laboratory -Pune (India). Our goal is to improve our understanding of direct biomass conversion strategies to drop-in fuels and chemicals, and develop processes that can be integrated with assets from the current petrochemical industry.
Biochemical Conversion of Biogenic Feedstocks: Our lab has experience in studying various chemical pretreatment methods for lignocellulosic biomass, notably 1) catalyzed and auto-catalyzed hydrothermal methods, 2) reductive catalytic fractionation, and 3) liquid anhydrous ammonia fractionation. We focus on understanding the mechanisms of action a gamut of chemical pretreatments that facilitate plant cell wall decomposition by carbohydrate hydrolase enzymes to monomeric sugars, and also the fundamental aspects of lignin fractionation and its conversion to value added products. We also have active studies on the upgrade of plant-based feedstocks toward products of improved quality for sustainable animal nutrition.
Our civilization has been accumulating enormous quantities of plastics, which often end up in our oceans and impact entire marine ecosystems. Thus, it is urgent to develop technological strategies that encompass plastics recovery and sorting logistics and plastics recycling/ upcycling. At FEWLS we are actively researching on the development of sustainable catalytic methods to improve the conversion of single use plastics to a gamut of precursors such as olefins, organic acids and esters, which can be used to produce plastics once again, or be upgraded to higher value products.
With the introduction of low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, there is the need for thermodynamic VLE and LLE measurements of those new refrigerants in lubricating oils to assess their potential applicability in current HVAC and air conditioning systems. Moreover, there is the need for developing thermodynamic tools to better assess the impact of often occurring refrigerant leaks on the energy efficiency of common refrigeration systems. Such tools can also be important assets to aid the development of leak detection systems based on variables such as temperature, pressure and compressor power consumption, so that refrigeration systems can be readily serviced to insure maximum energy efficiency and sustainability. At FEWLS, we use state of the art instrumentation such as IGA microbalances and XEMIS microbalances to study VLE and transport properties of individual components of mixed refrigerant gases in lubricating oils. Such important information is used to perform thermodynamic modelling, which can be coupled with refrigerant leak simulations to understand the impact of leaks on refrigeration systems' performance.