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ASC awards engineering professor research award

Emily McConville | Monday, October 14, 2013

Last month, the American Chemical Society (ASC) recognized Notre Dame chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Joan Brennecke’s research with the 2014 E.V. Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. The award, which Brennecke will accept at the ACS’s Spring National Meeting in March, includes a $5000 cash prize and travel expenses.

Brennecke and her research group have studied ionic liquids, chemical compounds which she said could  make refrigeration and power plants more environmentally friendly.

Brennecke said she was excited about the prestige the award would bring to her research and to Notre Dame.

“[The award] brings recognition to the research,” Brennecke said. “What it says is that the research that we’re doing here at Notre Dame, the graduate students and the postdocs and the undergrads who work in my group – it says that we’re doing good work. We’re doing things that are good scientifically and good technologically, and this award recognizes that.”

Brennecke said her team has several projects that develop commercial uses for ionic liquids, which are salts in liquid form. Because of the substances’ chemical makeup and low melting points, she said they have widespread applications.

“We can design them,” she said. “We can put all sorts of different combinations of cations and anions and put substituents on top of the cations and anions, so we can really change the properties.”

One of Brennecke’s team’s projects focuses on designing a way to use ionic liquids to remove carbon dioxide from flue gas in power plants, preventing it from entering the atmosphere and intensifying climate change. The process works by placing naphthalene into the ionic liquid and allowing the carbon dioxide to evaporate with the naphthalene, she said. This process of carbon dioxide removal uses less energy than other methods, which could use up 30 percent of a power plant’s energy capability.

“We’ve got some [ionic liquids] that, based on the prospects of this modeling and all the thermodynamic properties and everything should use about 22 percent [of the energy of the power plant], and that’s certainly better than 30 percent,” Brennecke said. “We’ve also got some interesting ones that start out as solids, but when they react with the [carbon dioxide] they become liquid, so we call them phase-change ionic liquids.

“Those numbers look like it’s closer to 15 percent, so that could be a really huge improvement.”  

Another project, one that Brennecke said has more commercial potential, is designing air conditioners and refrigerators using ionic liquids. Carbon dioxid, would be a good replacement for traditional refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbon, because it is non-toxic and non-flammabl, with relatively low global warming potential, she said. A stable liquid, however, would be needed in order to harness as much energy as possible from the carbon dioxide.

“So then we said, ‘Well, gee, ionic liquids are just perfect.’ We know how to tune them explicitly to work with carbon dioxide, so that’s been another project that we’ve been working on,” Brennecke said,s”Several of us faculty have got a start-up company working on commercializing that application.

Brennecke has won several awards for her research on both ionic liquids and supercritical carbon dioxide, a liquid form of the compound.

Contact Emily McConville at [email protected]