Interdisciplinary Renewable and Environmental Collaborative REU Program
Research Experience for Undergraduates Program
This National Science Foundation supported Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program gives research opportunities to undergraduate students with priority to first generation college students and 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.
The deadline for Summer 2020 was February 28, 2020. The program dates are June 1 to August 7, and are flexible to accommodate different college schedules.
REU program applicants must be:
- 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students
- Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or Atmospheric Science majors
REU Program Benefits
- 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.
- Travel reimbursement opportunities.
Prepare the materials to fill in the REU application. You will need to prepare:
- A transcript of your academic record to be uploaded or emailed (may be an unofficial copy).
- Your top three projects of interest (from the list below).
- A brief narrative that discusses your interest in this program, and your long-term career goals.
- Contact information (name, E-mail and phone) and a letter of recommendation from at least one professional reference to be uploaded or emailed.
Available REU Research Topics
Mentors: Wayne Seames (Chem Eng), Alena Kubatova (Chemistry)
This project will look at the impact of solvent polarity on the quality of extracted materials from micro algae. The objective is to determine if changing the polarity of the solvent can lead to a higher, more specific recovery of lipids (oils used for renewable fuels) with lower concentrations of carbohydrates and pigments. Your work will support the work of a graduate student and use that student’s microalgae resources and solvents to conduct the study. It will involve running extraction experiments with solvent mixtures to adjust polarity and then analyzing the samples using high pressure liquid chromatography and other analytical techniques to determine the quality of the extracted samples.
Mentors: Wayne Seames (Chem Eng), Alena Kubatova (Chemistry), Yun Ji (Chem Eng)
The cellulose and hemi-cellulose in plants can be converted into sugars which can then be reacted to produce levulinic and lactic acids. Lactic acid is used to produce polylactic acid (PLA) which is an important biodegradable plastic. Unfortunately, there isn’t a good use for levulinic acid. However, recent lab-scale studies have shown that levulinic acid can be transformed into 1,4-pentadiol (PDO). PDO is used to produce biodegradable polyester polymers and thus is a valuable and useful chemical. To date, the published work has been in small batch reactors. In this project, you will work with a graduate student to adapt existing UND small continuous reactors and then conduct experiments to convert levulinic acid into PDO. The goal is to define the near optimum reaction conditions for scale-up to a commercial facility.
Mentors: Kubatova (Chemistry), Kozliak (Chemistry), 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.
Mentors: Du (Chemistry), Kolodka (Chem. Eng.)
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 feedstock, (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 multiple perspectives. On the one hand, students will synthesize (bio)degradable polymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers via catalytic approaches. These include polyesters, polycarbonates, poly(silyl ether)s, as well as their copolymers. On the other hand, novel polymer architectures such as cyclic and brush type polymers will be constructed to explore their unique properties and potential applications. Special attention will be given to functionalized polymers that are stimuli-responsive or self-healable. Their thermo-mechanical properties will be characterized via various spectroscopic and analytical techniques such as gel permeation chromatography, differential scanning calorimetry, and dynamic mechanical analysis.
Mentors: Wayne Seames (Chem Eng), Xiaodong Hou (Institute for Energy Studies), Steve Nordeng (Geology)
Rare earth elements (REEs) have been identified by the United States Geological Survey as critical mineral commodities. New reliable, economic and environmentally suitable domestic REE resources must be realized. REEs have been found in concentrations that may be viable for recovery and purification in geologically young organic sediments (i.e. coals and crude oils), yet not in all sources. While there are hypotheses about why REEs are found in certain coals and crudes, no systematic study has been performed that would allow resource extractors to forecast where viable REE concentrations are found. In this project, the student will study selected core organic sediment samples to increase our understanding of REE geological distributions from Williston basin geological strata. The student will work with the geologists to identify a suite of samples to study, with the chemical engineers to learn how to dissolve the inorganic minerals out of the coal, and then learn and use a graphite furnace atomic adsorption spectrometer to determine the concentration of one or more target rare earth elements from the dissolved samples.
Mentors: Nasah (Institute for Energy Studies) and Mann (Chem Eng)
Chemical Looping Combustion (CLC) is a promising power generation technology where Carbon Dioxide from fossil fuel combustion can be easily captured for storage or utilization. It consists of using a metal oxide such as Hematite (rust) as an oxygen carrier that “loops” oxygen between an air reactor and a fuel reactor. This ensures that fuels such as coal can be combusted in a Nitrogen-free environment to produce a pure, capture-ready stream of Carbon Dioxide. However, several challenges need to be overcome before the technology is ready for commercialization, with the biggest ensuring complete conversion of solid fuels. Solid fuel combustion in CLC involves a solid-solid reaction between the fuel and oxygen carrier at moderate temperatures when compared to current technology. This results in Kinetic and mass transfer challenges which need to be addressed. At UND, research is currently ongoing to overcome these limitations through development of more effective oxygen carriers and reactor vessels. In this project, REU students will assist with designing, procuring and testing multiple bench and laboratory scale systems. They will learn about important chemical engineering principles such as kinetics, transport phenomena and thermodynamics viewed through a CLC lens.
Mentors: Xiaodong Hou (Institute for Energy Studies) and Guodong Du (Chemistry)
The overall goal of this project is to develop novel polycarbonate-based electrolytes for all solid-state Li-ion batteries (LIBs). The dominant electrolyte in todays’ commercial LIBs is a liquid solution of lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6) dissolved in a mixture of cyclic and linear organic carbonates (e.g., ethylene carbonate (EC), ethyl methyl carbonate (EMC)). The extreme flammability of those carbonate-based solvents and the sensitivity of LiPF6 to moisture have posed great challenges in safety and the cycling life at elevated temperatures that are still the main barriers for applications in Electric Vehicles (EVs). All Solid-state battery with a solid electrolyte is debatably the next generation Li-ion battery as it is expected to be a fundamental solution to the safety issue. This collaborative work will capitalize Dr. Du’s expertise in polymer synthetic chemistry and Dr. Hou’s experience in LIBs. REU students working on this collaborative project will: 1) learn laboratory techniques of synthetic chemistry; 2) learn advanced materials characterization techniques such as NMR and DSC; and 3) gain hands-on experience in Lithium battery assembly and electrochemical performance testing.
Mentors: Mann (Chem Eng) and Hou (Institute for Energy Studies)
The overall goal of this project is to develop a low-cost synthetic procedure to prepare graphene-based composite materials for Li-ion batteries (LIBS). Since its discovery in 2004, the first 2D material--graphene has been considered an ideal material to make composite electrodes to improve the overall performance of LIBs because of its high charge carrier mobility (200,000 cm2V-1s-1), high theoretical surface area (2630 m2g-1), a broad electrochemical window, and other remarkable properties. However, the existing research on the preparation of such composite electrodes requires the synthesis of graphene in advance, which severely inhibits its practical applications, as cost-effective production of graphene at large scale is still a big challenge. We developed an in-situ synthetic technology using Lignite-derived humic acid as the raw materials to prepare high-performance composite materials for LIBs. The resulting batteries 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.
Mentors: Zhao (Chemistry), Wu (Chemistry)
In bioscience, current bioanalysis and bioimaging mainly utilize visible fluorescent materials. However, in the visible region, the auto-fluorescence and absorption of radiation from biosamples are significant while the penetration of radiation into samples is superficial due to light scattering. These limitations result in low sensitivity and prevent access to inner structural information. In contrast, the near Infrared (NIR) region favors low background signals and deeper penetration of radiation. Therefore, biological samples under NIR conditions have low auto-fluorescence, absorption, and scattering. Nonetheless, challenges for traditional NIR fluorescent probes remain; namely, low signal intensity, poor water solubility and overlap of excitation and emission bands. To overcome these challenges, we are aiming to develop new NIR florescent nanomaterials. Given the unique advantages of the new graphene nanomaterials, such as tunable emission wavelengths, the super large surface area and the light weight (its density is two times of hydrogen), we are developing intense fluorescent and wavelength tunable graphene-based NIR fluorescent nanomaterials. These nanomaterials could be used to label target cells and tissues with high sensitivity.
Mentors: Klemetsrud (Chem Eng)
The overall goal of this project is to conduct life cycle analysis evaluating the environmental impacts of various biofuel pathways that could be viable in North Dakota. Focus will be spent on modeling biochemical and thermochemical conversion of agricultural residues (i.e. corn stover, sugar beet pulp, straw), along with the production of energy crops (i.e corn, canola, soy) to biofuels. These pathways will be compared to current fossil fuel production, as well as evaluating the indirect effects of land use change from food to fuel crops. Environmental impacts that will be evaluated are: greenhouse gas emissions, eutrophication, acidification and water usage.
Mentors: Klemetsrud (Chem Eng) and Kubatova (Chemistry)
This work aims to determine the rates of primary reactions that occur during fast pyrolysis. Fast pyrolysis is the thermochemical conversion of solid materials into a pyrolysis oil that can be upgraded into a biofuel product. Much is unknown about the primary mechanisms that occur in the thermochemical degradation of biomass. This work will look at understanding and quantifying the time and temperature dependence of fast pyrolysis. Various feedstocks such as plastic, sawdust and corn stover will be studied.
Mentors: Kubatova (Chemistry), Simmons (Biology), Bowman (Chem Eng)
to be updated
Mentors: Delene (Atm Sci) and Mahmood (Geology)
Mercury emitted into the atmosphere can travel thousands of kilometers before being deposited to the earth’s surface by rainfall. Mercury impacts human health since methylmercury builds up in fish that are consumed. There are several mercury deposition stations across the United States, including one in Burke, North Dakota. The use of three dimensional (3D) printing enables building a low cost system to obtain rainfall measurements that can be analyzed for mercury concentration. The department of Atmospheric Sciences has build a 3D Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) as part of the Measurement Systems class during the Fall 2018 semester. This project will adapt the tipping bucket component of the 3D-PAWS system for the collection of water samples for mercury analysis. The project will develop and test the rainfall collection system. Mercury concentrations in rainfall will be compared to snow-pack and river water concentrations.
Mentors: Delene (Atm Sci) and Fevig (Space Studies)
Balloons are a critical platform for obtaining atmospheric measurements in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The University of North Dakota (UND) owns a Graw Radiosonde station and conducts balloon flights with several different instrument packages. Recently, a NASA funded, student led project to develop, build, and launch a thermosonde to measure optical turbulence was conducted at UND. The use of three dimensional (3D) printing enables building low cost instruments capable of making research quality measurements. The Department of Atmospheric Sciences has build a 3D Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) as part of the Measurement Systems class during the Fall 2018 semester. This project will adapt the temperature, humidity and pressure measurement components of the 3D-PAWS for use on a balloon package system. A system for down-linking data from the Raspberry Pi to a ground station will be developed, tested and utilized. The software and 3D models of the system will be released in open repositories.
Mentors: Krishnamoorthy (Chem Eng), Hoffmann (Chemistry)
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.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Du (Chemistry)
Membrane distillation (MD) is a separation process where a micro-porous hydrophobic membrane separates two aqueous solutions at different temperatures. The hydrophobicity of the membrane prevents mass transfer of the liquid, whereby a gas-liquid interface is created. The separation phenomenon can de described using the sweeping gas in a counterflow to a liquid feed in a plate-and-frame membrane module. Henceforth, work is needed via numerically solving coupled systems of equations involving heat, mass, and momentum transport through the membrane.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Delhommelle (Chemistry)
Emerging membrane-based separation techniques such as reverse osmosis (RO) and forward osmosis (FO) are continually and progressively showing improvements in performance in water desalination processes. These membranes, nevertheless, still suffer from low productivity and serious performance defects. To fully realize the optimal performance of such membranes and to develop a successful defects-mitigating strategies, a better understanding of the role of physical parameters in fluid and mass transfer in the membrane and within the porous medium is very much needed. Hence, a miniature project can be developed to numerically investigate the analytical solution for flow in multiscale porous support to probe the structural parameters (e.g., porosity) on the velocity profile.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Delhommelle (Chemistry)
Ultrathin nanoscale porous membranes present a great potential for proteins separation and purification. Their performance, however, remains limited due to the rapid fouling and low capacity, especially in the normal flow filtration (NFF). A key obstacle to overcoming the fouling and low capacity issues is a better understanding of the mechanism controlling the formation of the cake layer on the surface of the membrane and its consequences on the transmembrane resistance to flow. Therefore, a targeted, miniature study is needed to determine the steady-state value of the cake resistance as a function of membrane and flow parameters and protein concentrations.
Mentors: Nasah (Institute for Energy Studies) and Mann (Chem Eng)
The state of North Dakota is known for its massive reserves of low rank coals, specifically Lignite. Combustion of these coals for power generation in coal-fired boilers is the primary source of power generated in the state. During high temperature combustion of lignite containing significant levels of alkali metals (sodium and potassium), the alkalis are vaporized as a result of their low boiling points (< 850°C). The vapors subsequently condense as aerosols and can also react with sulfur species to form alkali silicates or alkali sulfates. The sulfate and silicate compounds are major precursors for the occurrence of fouling and slagging deposits in boiler systems, significantly reducing the efficiency and resulting in frequent maintenance outages. Meanwhile, the formed aerosols that escape the boiler are known to adversely affect operation of air pollution control equipment for nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. In this project, we will measure the formation of these alkali-rich aerosol particles using a gravimetric impactor, and will explore methods to mitigate formation of said aerosols. We will also analyze the aerosol samples to better understand the partitioning of alkali as a function of size distribution.