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A Russ College professor gave the Ohio University and Athens community a peek into the future of sustainable manufacturing – as well as the future of engineering education – at last week’s Science Café.
Distinguished Professor and Russ Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Gerardine Botte shared her research on manipulating electrons for sustainable manufacturing at the event, which regularly features faculty from various academic departments and gives researchers the opportunity to speak about their work in an informal setting.
Botte, who also directs OHIO’s Center for Electrochemical Engineering Research (CEER), studies how electrochemical engineering can help manufacture chemicals more efficiently while reducing cost and environmental impact.
“Manufacturing for us means making chemicals,” she said during the lecture. “We’re talking about transforming a raw material into a different material using a chemical process.”
More than 100,000 chemicals and materials are in the marketplace today, thanks in large part to electrochemical engineers. Aluminum, for example, is created using an electrochemical process, and since this method was discovered, the price of aluminum has plummeted – it used to cost about as much as silver.
Botte explained that engineers create these chemicals in large reactors that often need to be heated to 400-500 degrees Celsius. This heating process is often not cost-effective or energy-efficient. That’s why Botte and the researchers at CEER are investigating how to control electrons to make the reactions more efficient.
“The larger the reactor, the longer it takes to heat. You have to give it time to work,” she said. “If we can control the electrons, we don’t need heat.”
Her main goals include minimizing the cost of manufacturing chemicals, reducing the number of steps in the reaction, operating at lower temperatures and pressures, and reducing the amount of polluting chemicals and byproducts.
Some of Botte’s other projects include using coal to make graphene and the development of an ammonia Greenbox that cleans wastewater while producing hydrogen. A Greenbox was installed at the Athens treatment plant in 2015.
She also collaborates with faculty in the Patton College of Education to develop a sustainable electrochemical engineering curriculum to help teachers prepare the next generation of engineers.
Suzan Abdelqader, a sophomore at Athens High School and an aspiring engineer who attended the talk, said the presentation made her hopeful about the future of engineering and excited to enter the field and learn more.
“We’re making further advances in science, and we need to find more efficient ways to solve problems that we’re facing,” Abdelqader said. “It’s a new look on something old, and it was very interesting to find out about different ways to produce new chemicals.”