Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering was established in 1910, making it the first department for petroleum engineering in the world. Today, our department has over 40 expert faculty (tenure/tenure-stream/joint/adjunct), a host of dedicated staff, more than 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and learning centers, and education programs that enrich with strong fundamentals and hands-on experience.

Chemical engineering is concerned with processes in which matter and energy undergo change. The range of concerns is so broad that the chemical engineering graduate is prepared for a variety of interesting and challenging employment opportunities.

Chemical engineers with strong background in sciences are found in management, design, operations, and research. Chemical engineers are employed in almost all industries, including food, polymers, chemicals, pharmaceutical, petroleum, medical, materials, and electronics. Since solutions to energy, environmental, and food problems must surely involve chemical changes, there will be continued demands for chemical engineers in the future.

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Aug
30
2018

Pitt alumnus and past Universidad Monteavila President Joaquin Rodriguez joins Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 30, 2018) … Petroleum refinery expert Joaquin Rodriquez joins the University of Pittsburgh this fall as Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Prior to Pitt, Dr. Rodriguez was President of Universidad Monteavila (2005-15) in Caracas, Venezuela, an institution with more than 400 faculty and staff, 1,500 students and 2,500 alumni that he helped to establish two decades ago. In addition to his academic tenure, Dr. Rodriguez has 15 years of technical experience in thermal conversion processes, advanced petrochemical techniques and the manufacturing of refinery specialty products including cokes, asphalts, lubricants, and waxes. As specialty products business leader for Petroleos de Venezuela, he directed technology intelligence monitoring, research, innovation, development, refinery technical assistance and international negotiations. He coauthored one US Patent, three peer reviewed papers, 19 conference presentations and more than 70 technical reports.“With the potential future growth of the petrochemical industry in the tri-state region, Joaquin’s research and business expertise greatly enhances our academic portfolio,” said Steven Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “He will also coordinate efforts to develop a strategic vision and plan of activities for the Department for Outreach, and expand on our initiatives for Diversity and Inclusion.”Dr. Rodriguez received his M.S. and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, with his thesis on “Needle Coke and Carbon Fibers Production from Venezuelan Oil Residues.” He was recognized with the James Coull Award for Department’s most outstanding graduate student, and the Phillip Walker Award at the 20th Biennial Conference on Carbon. In his 20 years of various academic roles he has contributed to the development of academic contents for four careers, led the organization of seven graduate programs, promoted the foundation of 15 research centers, arranged for 50 cooperation programs, taught 22 academic courses and five seminars, and delivered 13 lectures at conferences and 40 speeches and keynotes. ###

Aug
27
2018

ChemE's Giannis Mpourmpakis Part of $800K DOE Study Targeting Safer Storage for Nuclear Waste

Chemical & Petroleum

This news release originally posted at University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering. About 20 percent of the electricity produced in the United States of America is generated at nuclear power plants, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This means residents in one out of every five U.S. homes turn on their lights, use refrigerators and make toast – among other things – using energy generated by nuclear power plants. Additionally, nuclear materials and technology is used in other areas, including radioactive isotopes to help diagnose and treat medical conditions; irradiation to help make pest-resistant seed varieties; and radioactive isotopes to date objects and identify elements in research. While nuclear power generation emits relatively low amounts of air pollutants like carbon dioxide, it does produce nuclear waste, which can remain radioactive “for a few hours or several months or even hundreds of thousands of years,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With 99 nuclear reactors – and two more under construction – operated by about 30 different power companies, America is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. As of May 2018, there were 450 operating reactors in 30 countries worldwide, according to NRC reports. As such, the safe storage and disposal of the radioactive waste is of paramount importance. “Whenever we deal with nuclear energy, we are always concerned about how we deal properly with the waste that is generated,” said Jeffrey Rimer, the Abraham E. Dukler Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering. “We want to make sure that the nuclear waste is going to be stored for a sufficient time and not have issues with the release of this material into the environment.” Rimer is the principal investigator on a multi-agency research team studying the corrosion behavior of glass containers often used to store nuclear waste. Its goal is to find solutions to reduce or avoid the degeneration of the containers. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $800,000 to the project, titled “Formation of Zeolites Responsible for Waste Glass Rate Acceleration: An Experimental and Computational Study for Understanding Thermodynamic and Kinetic Processes.” The basic components of the glass are also the components of crystalline materials known as zeolites – silica and alumina, which are present there initially in an amorphous state but then eventually form zeolites. “During the process of glass dissolution and recrystallization to zeolites, cavities are opened within the amorphous glass that can potentially allow the radioactive material to be released,” Rimer said. “This is detrimental to the overall goal of trying to keep nuclear waste contained.” Co-investigator is Giannis Mpoumpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “We are very excited to be part of this excellent team or researchers and try to find ways for safer storage of nuclear waste,” he added. Exploring the role of zeolites Zeolites have been used for many years as adsorbents and catalysts in a variety of chemical processes, spanning applications from gasoline production to additives in laundry detergent, among thousands of other commercial and consumer applications. Rimer, an expert on crystallization, conducts groundbreaking research in this field. His work has led to the development of drugs for kidney stones – marking the first advance in kidney stone therapy in a span of 30 years – and malaria. He has oil and gas industry-related projects that target scaling in pipes and increasing the efficiency of catalysts. “At first glance, it looks as if I am embarking on a completely new area of research. But on a basic level we are asking the same types of questions in all of our research: What are the fundamental driving forces of new zeolite formation?” said Rimer. “If you understand the mechanisms of crystal nucleation and growth, how to control these processes…then crystallization becomes a broad platform that can be applied over a wide-range of different materials and applications.” Rimer started researching zeolites in 2001 while earning his doctoral degree from the University of Delaware and continues the work at UH. His extensive research on the topic led to the first in situ evidence of how zeolites grow, which was published in Science Magazine in 2014. His interest in zeolites is also what brought him to the DOE project and he is looking forward to applying his knowledge to this new challenge. “Fortunately, we have experience working with the zeolites that are relevant to this DOE project,” Rimer said. “That knowledge gives us a foundation to move forward and start thinking about questions that we did not pose earlier: What is causing nucleation from an amorphous precursor? What are the rates of growth under a broad range of conditions? How do we tailor these properties to reduce zeolite formation?” The team Other members of the research team are: James Neeway, Radha Motkuri and Jarrod Crum, all from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); and Dr. Bourmpakis from the University of Pittsburgh. The PNNL personnel are experts on storage and glass dissolution and will be handling the assessment calculations, Rimer said. He added that his Pittsburgh collaborator brings expertise in computations and will conduct density-functional theory calculations on the progression of the aluminosilicate dissolution and zeolite nucleation. “This is a nicely formulated team in that each partner is contributing something unique to the project, but at the same time there is a lot of synergy between each of the three institutions and the roles of each participant in this project,” Rimer said. “I think the project will, as a result of our collaborative efforts, make significant headway to improve the efficiency of nuclear waste storage.”
Rashda Khan, UH Cullen College of Engineering
Aug
23
2018

Computing Catalysts

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2018) … Polyisobutylene (PIB) is a workhorse polymer that is found in a multitude of products, ranging from chewing gum, to tires, to engine oil and gasoline additives. Although commercially produced in large quantities since the 1940s, PIB chemistry was a mystery – scientists weren’t sure how the reaction mechanism that creates the polymer happens at the molecular level, which limited further potential. However, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Wickliffe, Ohio-based Lubrizol Corporation has unlocked the secrets of PIB’s reaction mechanism. The group’s findings were published this month in the journal ACS Catalysis (DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.8b01494).Principal investigator is Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering. Funding for the research was provided by Lubrizol, which in 2014 established a $1.2 million strategic partnership with the Department and Swanson School to jumpstart research innovation that also offers opportunities for undergraduates to participate. “PIB is an incredibly versatile polymer. It can have many different properties depending on how it is made. There are many different ‘recipes’ for making PIB, each employing different catalysts and reaction conditions, but it turns out that no one really knows what is happening at the molecular level. Finding out what is going on is important because it is harder to control a process that you don’t understand.” Solving this catalytic puzzle is of interest to Lubrizol, which specializes in ingredients and additives for polymer-based products. Utilizing the University’s Center for Research Computing to analyze the molecular processes, the Pitt/Lubrizol group found that the assumed reaction mechanism was not correct and that initiation of the reaction requires a “superacid” catalyst. “These findings provide fundamental insight into the PIB reaction mechanism that could potentially be used to design different catalysts and to control the reaction – and hence, the potential range of products – in ways that are currently not possible.” Dr. Johnson said. “This project shows the value of creating academic/industrial partnerships to pursue research that might not be possible if pursued independently.” The research group included students Yasemin Basdogan, Bridget S. Derksen, and Minh Nguyen Vo; Assistant Professor John A. Keith, the R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy; and Lubrizol researchers Adam Cox, research chemist, Cliff Kowall, technical fellow of process development, and Nico Proust, R&D technology manager. Image above: Representation of the superacid catalyst, discovered by the Pitt/Lubrizol team and the PIB polymer chains. (Minh Nguyen Vo/Johnson Research Group) ### About the Johnson Research GroupThe Johnson Research Group at the University of Pittsburgh uses atomistic modeling to tackle fundamental problems over a wide range of subject areas in chemical engineering, including the molecular design of nanoporous sorbents for the capture of carbon dioxide, the development of catalysts for conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels, the transport of gases and liquids through carbon nanotube membranes, the study of chemical reaction mechanisms, the development of CO2-soluble polymers and CO2 thickeners, and the study of hydrogen storage with complex hydrides. About Dr. JohnsonKarl Johnson is an Associate Director of the Center for Research Computing and a member of the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute. He received his B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University, and PhD in chemical engineering with a minor in computer science from Cornell University.

Aug
22
2018

Swanson School and Center for Energy Partner with Leidos on Contract Award to Provide Research Support to NETL

Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (August 22, 2018) … To leverage its expertise in energy research, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Center for Energy will partner with Leidos on a ten-year, $365 million Research Support Services Contract awarded by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). As part of the agreement, Pitt will be part of a multi-disciplinary subcontracting team for Leidos, with NETL committing $20 million per year through Leidos to the subcontracting partners, which include Pitt. The contract is in a transition phase through the rest of 2018, with a formal start date of December 31, 2018.Pitt’s Center of Energy is a University-wide endeavor that leverages the energy-related expertise of approximately 100 faculty members across campus from multiple disciplines and departments across the Swanson School of Engineering, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Law School, Business School and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. The Center has a successful history collaborating with the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and NETL, especially through the former NETL Regional University Alliance.“Our multi-disciplinary research has encompassed many coal, oil, and natural gas program areas managed by FE and NETL, so this is a natural partnership for us,” noted Gregory Reed, director of the Center for Energy. “We’re excited to help NETL and Leidos access our array of talented faculty for this critical program.” “We look forward to continuing a long standing NETL relationship through Leidos,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research at the Swanson School. “This contract will be critical in helping NETL maintain best-in-class research and development operations and continue to position NETL as a world-class DOE National Laboratory.” ###

Jul
31
2018

ChemE Undergraduates Take Their Research to Italy

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (July 31, 2018) … University of Pittsburgh undergraduates Erin Hunter and Nicholas Waters traveled to Lucca, Italy this summer to present at the 2018 Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) on Biointerface Science. Both students presented work from their past year of research with Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Niepa, who was co-chair of the GRS on Biointerface Science, knew it was uncommon for undergraduates to attend this meeting but thought that Hunter and Waters might benefit from the experience. “Erin and Nick are impressive undergraduates with a strong academic record and scientific curiosity,” said Niepa. “They were the first students to join my new lab at Pitt and demonstrated a strong dedication, high level of maturity, and responsibility for the tasks I assigned them. It was my personal goal to provide them with this prestigious and eye-opening experience; and I was extremely delighted that GRC made a special exception allowing these emerging researchers to present their work alongside experts in the field of Biointerface Science.” Waters, a junior chemical engineering student, was granted a travel award by Pitt’s University Honors College to support his participation in the conference. His research focuses on understanding how bacteria interact with fluid interfaces. “We work with Alcanivorax borkumensis, an oil-degrading bacteria that is capable of emulsifying the oil and water phases by interacting with the oil-water interface,” said Waters. “This work is significant because the findings could help us better understand how to use bacteria for bioremediation of crude oil spills and/or microbial enhanced oil recovery from the ground.” After Niepa joined in the Swanson School in 2017, Waters was quick to contact him for research opportunities. He said, “I got involved in this work simply by reaching out to Dr. Niepa when he was first hired. I started working with him last fall semester and spent a lot of time helping set up his lab and learning the full capabilities of his instruments.” One year later, Waters has now collected enough data that will likely lead to a publication in the near future. Regarding the conference, he said, “I greatly enjoyed being able to meet and discuss my work in a professional setting and receive high-level feedback from others working in similar fields.” Hunter, a junior chemical engineering student, also spent her sophomore year in Niepa’s lab. Her research focuses on examining microbial dynamics in artificial confinements, referred to as microbial nanocultures. “Because of the amount of competition among species in a sample, traditional methods of culturing -such as using a flask- can be ineffective,” explains Hunter. “For example, a sample from the mouth contains an abundance of species, and in order to see growth from all species present, we must use a nanoculture.” “We can isolate and examine the individual bacterial species when we take a few milligram sample that we swabbed and encapsulate into smaller 5-7 nanoliter capsules,” said Hunter. “The goal of my research is to show that by using this process, it is now possible to study and collect data on these previously ‘unculturable species.’” Hunter believes that the Gordon Research Seminar was a valuable experience that helped guide her academic and research career. “It is helpful to learn about other people’s studies because it can inspire new ideas for your own research,” she said. “With Nick and I being the only undergraduate students there, it was nice to talk to current PhD students about their paths to graduate school.” In the fall of 2018, Waters will return to Niepa’s lab to continue his research, and Hunter will start a yearlong internship with McNeil Consumer Healthcare. “Whenever someone recalls the first undergraduate participation at the international GRS on Biointerface Science, they will remember these two Pitt ChemE undergrads. Their outstanding presentations initiated high-level conversations and promoted our work in the space of microbial interactions with solid or fluid interfaces.” said Niepa. “Erin and Nick are a testament to Pitt’s commitment to preparing its students for global scientific leadership” ###

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