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Interdisciplinary Renewable and Environmental Chemistry REU Program
at the University of North Dakota
This National Science Foundation supported Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program
gives research opportunities to undergraduate students with priority to students from tribal colleges
and other primarily undergraduate institutions. Participants work alongside UND faculty and students
on interdisciplinary summer research projects at the intersection of chemistry, chemical engineering,
and atmospheric sciences. Students also receive training in science communication and community outreach.
Who are we looking for?
2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students
Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Atmospheric Science majors
What are we offering?
On-campus housing and meal plan
$5,000 stipend for the ten-week research experience
Unique exposure to scientific approaches from two or more different disciplines
Available research topics:
Production of Mixed Organic/Inorganic Fertilizer using Lignite Coal and Biomass Waste Streams.
Mentors: Ji (Chem Eng), Kozliak (Chemistry), Sun (North American Green Pulp, Inc.)
Researchers have found that nitrogenous humic fertilizer can be produced by the oxidation of lignite coal. According to North Dakota Geological Survey, North Dakota has an estimated 25 billion tons of economically mineable coal, which will last over 800 years at the current consumption rate of 32 million tons per year. North Dakota also generates huge amount of agricultural waste annually such as wheat straw, corn stover and sunflower hulls. Fertilizers from biomass waste will be renewable and sustainable for the economic growth of our state. In this project, we will oxidize lignite into an acidic mixture and process the agricultural waste into an alkaline stream. Then, the two streams will be mixed to produce near neutral pH organic/inorganic fertilizer. Dr. Yun Ji (Chemical Engineering Department), Dr. Evguenii Kozliak (Chemistry Department) will co-advise the students who will be working on this project. Dr. Hua Sun (North American Green Pulp, Inc.) will provide technical support in the conversion of agricultural waste into using chemical streams.
Combining Atmospheric In-situ Measurements with Models
Mentors: Mullendore (Atm Sci), David Delene (Atm Sci), Bowman (Chem Eng)
Often scientists that conduct measurements and scientists that develop models do not interact since there is so much research necessary to attending accurate measurements and in understanding model results. However, there is often rapid progress once measurements with known uncertainties are combine with state-of-the-art numerical models. This research project will combine in-situ measurements of aerosols, including cloud condensation nuclei concentrations, and cloud properties with simulations conducted with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. The project will focus on the North Dakota region where previous field projects have obtained measurements and the WRF model has been routinely used.
DNA Analysis of Atmospheric Aerosol Filter Measurements
Mentors: Mentors: Simmons (Biology), Delene (Atm Sci)
There is currently great interest in the biological component of atmospheric particles. For example, bacterial may be an important source of ice nuclei, which enhances the concentration of ice particles in clouds. As part of on-going research projects, the Atmospheric Sciences department is able to collect atmospheric samples of suspended particles (aerosols) on particle filters. Filter samples are collected at the surface using a roof top inlet system and throughout the troposphere using a research aircraft. This research project will analyze material from atmospheric sampling to determine the amount and type of DNA present. Advanced sampling techniques enable the identification of small qualities of DNA.
Preparation of Graphene-Modified LiFePO4 Cathode for Li-Ion Battery
Mentors: Mann (Chem. Eng.), Hou (Petroleum Engineering)
The overall goal of this project is to develop a low-cost synthetic procedure to prepare graphene-modified lithium iron phosphate cathode materials (LFP/G) for Li-ion batteries at pilot scale. To fulfill this goal, a two-step procedure is proposed: 1) humic acid is extracted and purified from low-rank ND coal or similar source and 2) the extracted humic acid is then mixed with a Li source and FePO4 to in situ prepare LFP/G via a novel modified carbothermal reduction reaction that has been well-established in the ongoing project. We will focus on extracting, purifying, and fractionating humic acid from leonardite, as North Dakota has the highest quality of leonardite worldwide, and then using the humic acid extract to in situ prepare LFP/G cathode. The resulting LFP/G cathode is expected to have much better electrochemical performance than market ones. REU students working on this project will: 1) learn laboratory techniques of synthetic chemistry; 2) learn advanced materials characterization techniques such as X-ray diffractometer and Field-Emission Scanning Electron Microscope; and 3) gain some hands-on experience in Lithium battery assembly at the factory of the project sponsor.
Synthesis and Degradation of (Bio)degradable Polymers from Renewable Resources
Mentors: Du (Chemistry), Kolodka (Chem. Eng.)
The project will enable involvement of two undergraduate students working on the synthesis, characterization, and degradation studies of polylactides/polyesters/polycarbonates/polysilylethers and their copolymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers. Synthetic polymers are indispensable in our modern society, yet the current reliance on petroleum resources and the persistence of plastic wastes in the environment have required new strategies such as a shift toward renewable feedstocks, (bio)degradable materials, and accelerated degradations. The team of one chemist and one chemical engineer will direct the IREC students to tackle the issue from two perspectives. On the one hand, students will synthesize (bio)degradable polymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers via catalytic approaches. These include polycarbonates, polyesters, polysilylethers, as well as their copolymers with multiple segments (e.g., polylactides-co-polyesters, polycarbonates-co-polysilylethers), and their thermo-mechanical properties will be characterize via various spectroscopic and analytical techniques including gel permeation chromatography and differential scanning calorimetry. On the other hand, students will explore photo-based strategies that can accelerate the degradation of polymers including both biodegradable and non-biodegradable polymers.
Investigation of Lignin Degradation Using Novel Comprehensive Analysis
Mentors: Kubatova (Chem), Kozliak (Chem), Ji (Chem Eng)
Lignin is viewed among the most promising potential sources of bio-renewable materials as the third most abundant biomass component accounting for up to 30% of biomass feedstocks, with its global production reaching 1.1 million metric tons per year. However being the most resilient of the three main feedstocks, lignin conversion into high-value chemicals presents a significant challenge in terms of yield, efficiency and selectivity. One of the notorious problems is with the analysis of lignin. GC, the “workhorse” of the modern organic chemical analysis, is applicable only to a small volatile fraction of this material. Furthermore, whenever lignin is attempted to be broken down into smaller fragments, either thermally (with a variety of catalysts) or biologically, a significant product fraction, phenolic oligomers, is not GC-elutable either. Drs. A. Kubatova and Kozliak (UND Chemistry), in collaboration with Dr. Yun Ji (UND Chem. Engineering), have developed a comprehensive suite of methods to analyze all lignin and lignin decomposition product fractions including thermal carbon analysis, GC, multistep GC-Pyr (with online thermal evolution), LC-GPC (gel permeation chromatography, for MW distribution analysis), and 31P-NMR (in collaboration with Dr. I. Smoliakova, UND Chemistry). We have started some applications of this method to biological and thermal lignin degradation but this work will continue with REU students who will learn multiple chemical analysis techniques in application to renewable materials.
Atmospheric Aerosol Formation Experiments with Agricultural Emissions
Mentors: Bowman (Chem. Eng.), Delene (Atmospheric Science),
Agricultural operations emit particle and gas phase compounds that undergo reactions in the atmosphere. These emissions have the potential to alter particle concentrations and compositions, impacting air quality, visibility, and cloud formation. Experiments will be conducted in a laboratory aerosol chamber to study particle aging and gas-particle conversion processes. The system consists of an 8 m3 Teflon reaction chamber within a temperature controlled enclosure surrounded by UV lights to mimic solar radiation. Gas-phase crop emissions and particle emissions from farm equipment are added into the chamber and gas reactions, particle growth, and dilution and depositional losses are monitored by a variety of gas and particulate instrumentation. In this project, IREC students will help perform a series of experiments exploring the formation of secondary aerosol from different gas and particle mixtures. Chemical analysis of collected samples will include gas chromatographic/mass spectrometric characterization using either direct injection or thermal desorption with pyrolysis and will be used to compare measured and predicted changes in particle size and CCN behavior.
Rare Earth Elements Recovery from Coal and Coal Byproducts
Mentors: Laudal (Institute of Energy Studies), Mann (Chem Eng)
Due to their unique chemical and physical properties, rare earth elements (REE) have become crucial components in a wide range of consumer goods, technology applications and military defense systems. One of the most important growing market sectors for REEs is in permanent magnets that are used in wind turbines and hybrid/electric vehicles and many other applications. These rare earth magnets are the strongest currently known and are essential to making these renewable energy systems efficient. However, the REE market is dominated by China, which produces nearly 90% of the global REE supply and controls most of the value chain. UND is presently developing a novel and environmentally benign process to extract, concentrate and purify REEs from North Dakota lignites and other coal resources. The technology involves a selective solvent-based process than can efficiently remove the REEs and other valuable metals from the coal feedstock, followed by hydrometallurgical techniques to concentrate the REEs for further purification and refining into salable rare earth metals and eventually rare earth-based products. In this project, REU students will assist with bench-scale testing of the technology, involving process design, equipment operation, and data analysis. The students will learn about coal geochemistry/geology, mineral processing and extractive metallurgy, in addition to valuable hands-on engineering experience.
Multi-Scale Model Development for Post-Combustion Carbon Capture Technologies
Mentors: Krishnamoorthy (Chem Eng), Hoffmann (Chem)
The Department of Energy and the Power Industry have made significant investments towards the research and development of post-combustion carbon capture technology. These have primarily been on three main technologies: adsorption, absorption and membranes. While each of these technologies have energy and techno-economic advantages and disadvantages, uncertainties in the modeling methodologies employed to represent these processes constitute a significant roadblock towards the design and scale up of these processes to handle the range of conditions that may be encountered during commercial operations. On the molecular level, these uncertainties may stem from thermodynamic and kinetic sub-models to accurately represent the response of a solvent or a membrane. On the macroscopic level, models to adequately represent the multiphase flow characteristics in a scrubber or the mass transfer properties such as selectivity, gas permeability, and pressure drop across a membrane are required. To bridge these knowledge gaps, this project will carry out high-fidelity, first-principle modeling (Chemistry) in conjunction with Computational Fluid Dynamics (Chemical Engineering) based modeling of these systems to develop high fidelity sub-models for thermodynamics and kinetics, heat and mass transfer, and hydrodynamics that will be validated by comparisons against published experimental data in the peer reviewed literature.
Analysis of Organic Compounds within Atmospheric Particulate Matter
Mentors: Kubatova (Chemistry), Delene (Atm Sci), Bowman (Chem Eng)
Atmospheric particulate matter consists of both solid and liquid particles within the atmosphere. These particles can contain high levels of both organic carbon and elemental carbon and are known to have an effect on the public’s overall health as well as the radiation balance of Earth’s atmosphere. To understand the impact of these particles the total carbon content and chemical speciation of particulate matter can be determined using thermal optical analysis (TOA) and thermal desorption – pyrolysis – gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (TD-pyr-GC/MS), respectively. The TOA instrumentation allows for the determination of the percentage of organic and elemental carbon that make up the total carbon fraction of particulate matter. TD-pyr-GC/MS uses a unique analysis technique that allows for the speciation of the carbonaceous fraction of particulate matter. For this project, REU students with accompanying graduate student mentors will conduct air sampling and analyze atmospheric particulate matter collected during the summer months in Grand Forks, ND. The students will get to work with a bevy of instrumentation and develop an understanding of instrument calibration, analytical techniques, and measurements that together allow for a comprehensive picture of these particles in our atmosphere.
Balloon-borne Atmospheric Measurements
Mentors: Delene (Atm Sci), Fevig (Space Studies)
Balloons are a critical platform for obtaining atmospheric measurements in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The University of North Dakota owns a Graw Radiosonde stations and conducts balloon flights with several different instrument packages. Recently, a NASA funded project developed, build, and launch a thermosonde to measure optical turbulence. This research project focuses on the calibration of balloon-borne instruments, measurements, and analysis. Software programs are used to conduct analysis of balloon sounding data and weather forecast models are used to assimilate sounding data.