Fernando Lima, assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at West Virginia University, has earned a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for his work to improve modular systems for energy applications. The award comes with $500,000 in funding over a five-year period.
The northeast and mid-Atlantic regions are home to an abundance of shale gas, which has the potential to be used as a low-cost feedstock for producing energy and chemicals. However much of it is “stranded”; the geographic terrain, especially in West Virginia, makes it difficult to build pipelines to extract the resource to process it in a centralized location. Modular systems, which are built from small pieces of equipment that can be easily transported to these sites, can eliminate the need for expensive pipelines.
According to Lima, there are several economic and technological challenges associated with modular systems that have prevented their development.
“One of the economic challenges is that the systems are small, thus challenging the concept of economies of scale,” Lima said. “Due to their size, they are coupled and highly integrated, which can result in mathematical models that are large in scale and complex and nonlinear in nature.”
Lima and the members of his research team, which include WVU students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, will analyze computational approaches which are expected to provide guidelines for the design of modular systems in order to accelerate their development and use.
“This research will expose students to emerging technologies and state-of-the-art process systems engineering tools,” Lima said. “We will use process optimization and computational geometry tools to optimize and intensify designs for the modular systems so that they have maximized efficiency, reduced cost and minimized environmental impact. Additionally, statistical and stochastic control tools will be explored to account for process variables related to gas composition and energy cost.”
The investigated emerging technologies, Lima added, include membrane reactor processes for the direct methane aromatization conversion to hydrogen and benzene as well as natural gas combined cycle processes for power generation.
The project will utilize the process simulator at WVU’s Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research, or AVESTAR, Center as a platform for the integration of research and education. Lima plans to host events for high school students to expose them to clean energy technologies through the use of the three-dimensional gaming environment of the process simulator.
“In addition to developing teaching skills for the WVU students, these events will hopefully motivate high school students to join STEM fields, thereby providing society a new workforce with the skills needed to succeed in a clean energy environment future,” Lima said. “This research is also closely aligned with current efforts by WVU’s Center for Innovation in Gas Research and Utilization as well as its Energy Institute.”
“This award from NSF recognizes Dr. Lima’s creativity in finding solutions to major societal problems,” said Rakesh Gupta, the George and Carolyn Berry Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. “It not only allows him to couple and integrate reactions and transport processes in modular units, it also allows him to indulge in his passion of integrating research with teaching.”
Lima earned his doctorate in chemical engineering from Tufts University in 2007 and his bachelor’s degree in the discipline from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, in 2003.
The NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, program supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. This is the seventh straight year that a member of the Statler College faculty has been selected to receive this honor.
“To have yet another member of our faculty selected for this prestigious award is testament to the high quality of faculty we are recruiting to the Statler College,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “Finding ways to develop the region’s shale gas reserves is crucial to the economic future of our state and nation. Dr. Lima is doing cutting-edge research in this area and he readily shares his knowledge with the students he mentors.”
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