Next-generation Electrochemical Manufacturing of Chemicals and Fuels

Project Description

Falling costs of electricity from both renewable and non-renewable sources have motivated interest in electrochemical production of chemicals and fuels. At the same time, electrochemical processing has the potential to be economically viable at smaller scale and with less dangerous chemicals than traditional thermochemical approaches.  Cyclohexane oxidation to adipic acid, a nylon precursor, is one compelling candidate for an electrochemical approach to process intensification. 30% of nylon is currently produced from electrochemically-generated acrylonitrile. Meanwhile, adipic acid is produced by thermally oxidizing cyclohexane with nitric acid. Coupling an anodic process for adipic acid to the cathodic acrylonitrile dimerization would increase electrical energy efficiency and improve safety by eliminating flammable oxygen and toxic NOx. Similarly, wastewater greases could be electrochemically upgraded to diesel substitutes by anodic decarboxylation. Either of these processes would enable distributed manufacturing for robust and efficient supply chains.

Research Goals

  • Build and test electrochemical reactors for cyclohexane oxidation or wastewater grease upgrading
  • Compare catalysts and operating conditions to identify promising process intensification approaches
  • Complete electrochemical and chemical analysis of products

Learning Goals

  • How to execute and troubleshoot electrochemical experiments
  • How to infer thermodynamic, kinetic, and transport properties from electrochemical data
  • How to interpret chemical assays such as total acid number and thin-layer-chromatography

Groups Conducting Research