LSU, Delaware to Develop Chemical Manufacturing Processes Using CO2 Feedstocks and Renewable Energy

September 28, 2021

BATON ROUGE, LA – Each day, many of the products we use, whether we know it or not, are produced from natural gas or crude oil using carbon- and energy-intensive processes. But what if we could make those same products using CO2, thereby drastically reducing or even eliminating our carbon footprint?

That is the ultimate goal of a project being conducted by researchers from LSU and the University of Delaware, thanks to a four-year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or NSF EPSCOR, program.

The immediate objective for the group is to make electrolyzers that convert CO2 into multi-carbon products more durable and efficient. A common example of an electrolyzer is one that generates hydrogen and oxygen from the electrolysis of water. This project seeks to use electricity from renewables to drive a sort of “reverse combustion reaction.”

“There has been a lot of progress in CO2 reduction over the last 15 years; we can now make valuable carbon products like ethanol and ethylene, and we can make them at high rates,” said John Flake, principal investigator on the project and chair of the LSU Cain Department of Chemical Engineering.

“The problems at this stage are more practical. For example, the electrolyzer materials need to last for years, and the energy efficiency needs to be improved. The goal of our project is to accelerate the work needed to make CO2 electrolyzers more durable and efficient. This could lead to industrial-scale CO2 electrolysis within a decade.”

Flake noted that ethylene is the most basic chemical building block used in making hundreds of products, such as plastics, detergents, and textile fibers.

“Imagine a future where detergents are made from renewable energy, water and CO2 instead of natural gas,” he said.

Joining Flake from LSU are Kevin McPeak, associate professor of chemical engineering; Orhan Kizilkaya, assistant professor at the LSU Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices; Noemie Elgrishi, assistant professor of chemistry; and Phil Sprunger, professor of physics. From the University of Delaware are Feng Jiao, professor of chemical engineering; Yushan Yan, chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering; and Kofi Yao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

In addition to the researchers, more than 70 undergraduate and graduate students will be directly engaged with the work; and representatives from leading chemical manufacturers Shell, Dow, and ExxonMobil have already agreed to be involved in some capacity. Furthermore, outreach activities are planned to provide experiences related to STEM education and careers for thousands of K-12 students in Louisiana and Delaware.

“This is a great opportunity for Louisiana,” Flake said. “Chemical manufacturing in the United States is a very big deal, and I think we should be thinking about the future. We already have the infrastructure (pipelines and plants to make derivatives from ethylene)…so we have a huge advantage over the rest of the world.”


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Contact: Joshua Duplechain

Director of Communications

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