Skip to main content

Engineers earn two NSF Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grants on same day


The National Science Foundation’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program is extremely competitive. In 2020, only 15 proposals were funded nationwide. In rare instances, a single university is awarded two EFRI grants in the same award cycle, but it is practically unheard of for a single department to win two EFRIs on the same day.

Two research groups within the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering just achieved the extraordinary concurrence. Teams led by Professor Liang-Shih Fan and Professor Bhavik Bakshi each received $2 million in funding to support four-year projects.

Creating value from stranded natural gas


The project led by Fan will develop a small-scale modular chemical processing system to convert stranded natural gas and carbon dioxide into value-added liquid fuel products. Stranded natural gas resources are currently flared due to economic limitations associated with prohibitive transportation costs and small reservoir sizes. Successfully transforming these remotely distributed gas resources to useful energy products will contribute significantly to the U.S. economy and its energy security.

gas flaring
Gas flare on top of a flare stack at Preemraff oil refinery, Lysekil, Sweden.

The system will leverage Fan’s thermo-catalytic flared gas reforming (TC-FGR) technology and a novel pseudo-catalytic metal oxide (PMO) material. The successful integration of this innovative technology has the potential to be transformative for monetizing stranded natural gas while simultaneously consuming carbon dioxide as a feedstock in the gas conversion process.

“This amazing funding to support the development of a unique modular system based on the extensive expertise of the team members on material synthesis, multiphase reactor design, system optimization and techonomic analysis allows our collective idea to be possibly realized,” Fan said.

Co-principal investigators include Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Vicky Doan-Nguyen and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professors Joel Paulson and Andrew Tong. Velocys, Inc., and Jan Lerou Consulting will contribute as industry partners. The team will use a data-driven approach to integrate the reactor system components and further the fundamental understanding of the gas upgrading chemistry by identifying an efficient catalyst to promote the reactions.

Eliminating end-of-life plastics


Only a small fraction of the plastic produced to date has ever been recycled. The remainder has either been disposed of as landfill, incinerated or otherwise lost to the environment at the end of the product’s useful life. Bakshi’s multidisciplinary team will develop methods and tools for assessment, design, and innovation toward Sustainable and Circular Engineering for the Elimination of End-of-life Plastics (E3P).

“With this collaborative project, we expect to contribute to finding solutions that allow society to benefit from the many attractive properties of plastics, while eliminating their environmental impacts such as those due to littering and greenhouse gas emissions,” Bakshi said.

The team will conduct synergistic research in polymer chemistry, reaction engineering, and molecular simulation to determine properties of depolymerization and valorization processes under practical conditions of contamination. Valorization is the process of reusing, recycling or composting waste materials and converting them into more useful products including materials, chemicals, fuels or other sources of energy. Additionally, they will analyze cost and physical flows of current and emerging technologies, model supply networks to determine the effects on the wider chemical industry, conduct behavioral studies to discern and influence the role of consumers, and assess life cycle and circularity to estimate environmental effects across global value chains.

The team also will develop teaching modules related to the research for inclusion in university courses and high school engineering curricula through the Engineer Your World program which reaches over 10,000 diverse high school students across the U.S.

Co-PIs include Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Li-Chiang Lin, School of Environment and Natural Resources Assistant Professor Nicole Sintov, University of Texas at Austin Professor David T. Allen, and Penn State University Chemical Engineering Department Head Phillip Savage and Assistant Professor Christian Pester.

NSF’s EFRI program is designed to offer critical, strategic support to interdisciplinary teams of researchers to embark on rapidly advancing frontiers of fundamental engineering research. Both Ohio State projects were deemed to offer transformative opportunities for a significant shift in fundamental engineering knowledge with a strong potential for long-term impact on national needs.

with contributions from Wenda Williamson, William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering 

Categories: ResearchFaculty