Fikile Brushett of MIT Is AIChE’s 2022 Allan P. Colburn Award Recipient

First awarded in 1945, the Allan P. Colburn Award for Excellence in Publications by a Young Member of the Institute is presented to an AIChE member in their early career. The award is sponsored by E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, Inc.

The recipient of the 2022 Allan P. Colburn Award is Dr. Fikile Brushett, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is being honored for pioneering advances in understanding and controlling fundamental processes governing performance, cost, and lifetime of flow electrochemical systems for energy storage and conversion.

Dr. Brushett and the other Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients will be recognized at the 2022 AIChE Annual Meeting, November 13–18 in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Oftentimes, the most interesting and important research problems exist at the interfaces between disciplines. I am always excited to learn how others approach problems, and to consider how we might benefit from each other’s efforts”

An alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his BS in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he received his PhD in chemical engineering, Brushett held a postdoctoral fellowship in Argonne National Laboratory’s Electrochemical Energy Storage Group before beginning his independent research career at MIT in 2012. There, his group is engineering electrochemical technologies to help enable a sustainable energy economy.

“Energy is essential to modern society,” says Brushett, “and the abundance, availability, and affordability of fossil fuels has been a key driver of the past century’s progress. However, with a growing global energy demand, there is an increasingly urgent need to decouple carbon emissions from economic activity without stifling development.”

Chemical engineering’s vital role in decarbonization

According to Brushett, electrochemical processes are poised to play an important role in the evolving global power system, as the interconversion of electrical and chemical energy can enable clean technologies that support the decarbonization of the electric grid, power motor vehicles, and offer new opportunities for chemical manufacturing. Meeting these emerging energy needs, however, will require transformational changes as the stringent performance, cost, and scale requirements cannot be met by many of today’s technologies.

“We seek to understand and control the fundamental processes that govern the performance, cost, and lifetime of present day and next-generation electrochemical systems for energy storage and conversion,”says Brushett. He explains that his team’s approach combines synthesis and characterization of redox active materials, design and engineering of electrochemical reactors, and techno-economic modeling of electrochemical systems. “We place a strong emphasis on connecting system-level performance and cost goals to materials-level property requirements. We also leverage this knowledge to explore new chemistries and reactor designs,” adds Brushett. “Ultimately, we aim to develop robust and portable guiding principles for the design of materials, processes, and devices that harness electrochemical phenomena.”

Fikile Brushett (standing at right) with his research team at MIT

In striving toward these goals, Brushett emphasizes the value and necessity of interdisciplinary cooperation. “Oftentimes, the most interesting and important research problems exist at the interfaces between disciplines,” says Brushett. “Throughout my career, I have benefitted tremendously from collaboration with and mentorship from researchers across, and beyond, the chemical sciences.”

Brushett says that these engagements have allowed him to broaden his own thinking, to learn new skills, and to develop a healthy professional network. “I am always excited to learn how others approach problems in energy and climate change, and to consider how we might benefit from each other’s efforts.”

This fall, ChEnected is presenting profiles of all the 2022 Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients. Visit ChEnected regularly to meet this year’s honorees.