The Re-Engineered Energy Laboratory (REng|Lab) focuses on renewable, responsible, real solutions to our most pressing global energy challenges through fundamental and applied understanding. Such solutions require re-engineered approaches that often involve unconventional perspectives and innovative methods.
The primary global challenge being addressed by the REng|Lab is the devising of viable approaches for the sustainable synthesis of high-value chemicals and products from low-value or detrimental feedstock through the direct use of renewable energy. These approaches involve, for example, the synthesis of hydrocarbon fuels from carbon dioxide, the major driver of global climate change, and water; or hydrogen as a clean fuel from water or methane; or high-value products such as carbon-black, a broadly-used pigment and filler, from carbon dioxide or methane. The effectiveness of such processes requires novel methods to use renewable energy.
The REng|Lab is investigating processes based on the use of concentrated solar energy, our most abundant renewable energy source; as well as the direct use of electricity, obtainable from renewable or conventional energy sources, in the form of plasmas – gases that conduct electricity, as found inside fluorescent lamps, in lightning, or in the sun. Whereas the direct use of solar energy potentially has the greatest sustainability advantage, the use of plasmas mitigates the problems associated with the intermittency of solar irradiation and leads to processes that can run all day and night, reducing complexity, operating costs, and hence increasing economic feasibility.
The project is investigating the use of nonthermal plasma sources for the production of hydrogen from solid waste feedstock (organic, polymeric) at low temperature and (near) atmospheric pressure conditions. The initial focus is on the treatment of cellulose and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) as biomass and plastic waste models, respectively.
Ammonia is the main component of human-made fertilizers and can be used as a carbon-free liquid fuel. The project is creating new reactor designs and processes for the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen via nonthermal plasma. The focus is on reactor systems that are configurable and modular, and on processes that operate at low-temperature and (near) atmospheric pressure conditions.
The project aims to exploit the advantages of solar-thermochemical and plasmachemical approaches towards more sustainable and/or economically-viable chemical synthesis processes. Solar thermochemical approaches are based on the use of concentrated solar radiation – the most abundant form or renewable energy. Although these methods depict high potential to be sustainable and scalable, the intermittent nature of solar radiation limits their economic viability. In contrast, plasmachemical approaches – powered by renewable electricity – can run continuously and depict high efficiencies. Integrated solar-plasma chemical conversion approaches can lead to processes that can run continuously (day and night) and potentially with higher efficiency.
Atmospheric pressure low-temperature plasmas are at the core of diverse technologies, from materials processing and chemical synthesis, to environmental remediation and medicine. Columnar discharges, such as those established in pin-to-plate configurations are among the simplest and most versatile, yet they display significantly intricate characteristics – from complex chemical kinetics to instabilities. This project focuses on the modeling and characterization of columnar discharges, particularly on unveiling their properties as function of varying operating parameters. Such characterization is being enabled by the time-dependent and three-dimensional computational models.
Plasma-treated water depicts remarkable properties that promote plant growth and can have a notable role in sustainable agriculture practices. The project is investigating the use of low-cost and customizable manufacturing techniques, particularly digital manufacturing strategies such as 3D-printing of plastics, for the creation of plasma reactors to produce nitrate as a nitrogen nutrient directly in liquid water.
The interaction of air plasma with liquid water is being exploited in diverse stablished and emerging applications, notably water treatment, agriculture, and medicine. Unveiling the wide variety of physical and chemical processes occurring at the plasma-water interphase can assist the advancement of these applications. The project is creating computational models to describe the dynamics of the interphase and the transport of reactive species in air plasma interacting with water.
The interaction of plasma with liquid media is a research frontier with applications ranging from the synthesis of materials, chemicals, and nanoparticles, to environmental remediation, agriculture, and medicine. Experimental observations have revealed the formation of patterns – structured arrangement of elements – over the plasma-water interface. The project investigates self-organization and pattern formation due to the interaction of glow discharge plasma established with a water anode.
Kinetic nonequilibrium manifests as microscopic imbalances of particles and fields. Dissipative nonequilibrium can be interpreted as the tendency of the system to achieve a more thermodynamically favorable global state. Computational models and tools are being developed that can concurrently capture the occurrence of kinetic and dissipative nonequilibrium in plasma flows. These methods are particularly aimed at the modeling and simulation of atmospheric pressure warm plasma flows, such as those in arc plasma torches, gliding arcs, and glow discharges.