(367c) Chemical Reaction Engineering - Fuel for Thought | AIChE

(367c) Chemical Reaction Engineering - Fuel for Thought


Wilhite, B. A. - Presenter, University of Connecticut

My research interests focus upon applying Chemical Reaction Engineering to solve fundamental and applied problems in Alternative Energy Technologies. Two particularly exciting mediums for realizing catalytic solutions to our current energy dilemmas are the use of microtechnology for unrivalled system complexity and portability, and multifunctional reactors for unrivalled heat and mass integration between multiple catalytic and non-catalytic processes.

Multifunctional reactor design is a promising avenue for realizing breakthroughs in efficient reforming of hydrocarbons, either for syn-gas generation or hydrogen production in support of the envisioned ?hydrogen economy?. Effective heat integration is required for design of high-temperature fuel cells employing catalytic solid-oxides for internal reforming coupled with electrochemical cell operation. The use of ceramic materials combined with micromachining technologies may enable further breakthroughs in the development of non-isothermal ceramic microreactors for unrivalled complexity and efficiency in multifunctional reactor design.

Another alternative energy source that is rapidly growing in popularity is biodiesel, and it has the potential to be an equally promising teaching tool for a myriad of science and engineering topics, not the least of which is reaction engineering. A relatively simple-to-perform transesterification reaction between potassium methoxide and waste vegetable oil, carried out at low temperatures (~ 50oC), followed by a phase-separation and water-washing steps, yields an immediately useful commodity which captures the student's attention easily ? a home-made, bio-derived diesel fuel. Current efforts at the University of Connecticut include the introduction of a pilot-scale (80 gal) biodiesel production and analysis laboratory into the traditional senior unit operations laboratory, and co-ordinated efforts to introduce parallel bio-diesel related pedagogy in Environmental Engineering, Fuel Chemistry, and Economics in collaboration with fellow members of the Connecticut Biodiesel Consortium