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Electro-selective Fermentation of Scenedesmus acutus algae for enhanced lipid extraction

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The microalgae Scenedesmus have been regarded as a potential source for biofuel production, having up to ~30% of dry weight as lipids used for biodiesel fuel production. Electro-selective fermentation (ESF) is a novel approach that can selectively degrade proteins

The microalgae Scenedesmus have been regarded as a potential source for biofuel production, having up to ~30% of dry weight as lipids used for biodiesel fuel production. Electro-selective fermentation (ESF) is a novel approach that can selectively degrade proteins and carbohydrates while conserving lipids within algal cells, while simultaneously enhancing lipid wet-extraction and biohydrogenation. ESF is a combination of SF and Microbial Electrolysis Cell (MEC) technologies. Experiments reported here prove that ESF is an effective means of enhancing lipid wet-extraction by ~50% and achieving 36% higher lipid saturation conversion, compared to SF, over 30 days of semi-continuous operation. Anode-respiring bacteria (ARB) residing on the anode surface produced a current that led to increased rate of organic substrate utilization, protein degradation, and ultimately enhanced lipid extraction and biohydrogenation that converted unsaturated to saturated fatty-acids. Thus, ESF provides a promising method for enhancing lipid extraction for biofuel production.

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2019-05

Algal Fuels: A Future Less Green than the Plant

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The algal fuel industry has existed since the 1980s without fully commercializing a product. Algal fuels are potentially viable replacements for fossil fuels due to their fast cultivation, high oil content, carbon dioxide sequestration during growth, and ability to

The algal fuel industry has existed since the 1980s without fully commercializing a product. Algal fuels are potentially viable replacements for fossil fuels due to their fast cultivation, high oil content, carbon dioxide sequestration during growth, and ability to be grown on non-arable land. For this thesis, six companies from 61 investigated were interviewed about their history with biofuels, technological changes they have gone through, and views for the future of the industry. All companies interviewed have moved away from fuel production largely due to high production costs and have moved primarily toward pharmaceuticals and animal feed production as well as wastewater treatment. While most do not plan to return to the biofuel industry in the near future, a return would likely require additional legislation, increased technological innovation, and coproduction of multiple products.

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2019-05

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Exploring the consequences of permeate recycling in a photobioreactor using multi-component, community-level modelling

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While biodiesel production from photosynthesizing algae is a promising form of alternative energy, the process is water and nutrient intensive. I designed a mathematical model for a photobioreactor system that filters the reactor effluent and returns the permeate to the

While biodiesel production from photosynthesizing algae is a promising form of alternative energy, the process is water and nutrient intensive. I designed a mathematical model for a photobioreactor system that filters the reactor effluent and returns the permeate to the system so that unutilized nutrients are not wasted, addressing these problems. The model tracks soluble and biomass components that govern the rates of the processes within the photobioreactor (PBR). It considers light attenuation and inhibition, nutrient limitation, preference for ammonia consumption over nitrate, production of soluble microbial products (SMP) and extracellular polymeric substance (EPS), and competition with heterotrophic bacteria that predominately consume SMP. I model a continuous photobioreactor + microfiltration system under nine unique operation conditions - three dilution rates and three recycling rates. I also evaluate the health of a PBR under different dilution rates for two values of qpred. I evaluate the success of each run by calculating values such as biomass productivity and specific biomass yield. The model shows that for low dilution rates (D = <0.2 d-1) and high recycling rates (>66%), nutrient limitation can lead to a PBR crash. In balancing biomass productivity with water conservation, the most favorable runs were those in which the dilution rate and the recycling rate were highest. In a second part of my thesis, I developed a model that describes the interactions of phototrophs and their predators. The model also shows that dilution rates corresponding to realistic PBR operation can washout predators from the system, but the simulation outputs depend heavily on the accuracy of parameters that are not well defined.

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2018-05

Heterogeneous Catalysis for Organic Reactions

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This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel

This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel phosphide catalysts. This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

Project 1 Abstract: Ethylene Oxychlorination
The current two-step process for the industrial process of vinyl chloride production involves CuCl2 catalyzed ethylene oxychlorination to ethylene dichloride followed by thermal cracking of the latter to vinyl chloride. To date, no industrial application of a one-step process is available. To close this gap, this work evaluates a wide range of self-prepared supported CeO2 and EuOCl catalysts for one-step production of vinyl chloride from ethylene in a fixed-bed reactor at 623 773 K and 1 bar using feed ratios of C2H4:HCl:O2:Ar:He = 3:3 6:1.5 6:3:82 89.5. Among all studied systems, CeO2/ZrO2 and CeO2/Zeolite MS show the highest activity but suffer from severe combustion of ethylene, forming COx, while 20 wt.% EuOCl/γ-Al2O3 leads to the best vinyl chloride selectivity of 87% at 15.6% C2H4 conversion with complete suppression of CO2 formation and only 4% selectivity to CO conversion for over 100 h on stream. Characterization by XRD and EDX mapping reveals that much of the Eu is present in non-active phases such as Al2Eu or EuAl4, indicating that alternative synthesis methods could be employed to better utilize the metal. A linear relationship between conversion and metal loading is found for this catalyst, indicating that always part of the used Eu is available as EuOCl, while the rest forms inactive europium aluminate species. Zeolite-supported EuOCl slightly outperforms EuOCl/γ Al2O3 in terms of total yield, but is prone to significant coking and is unstable. Even though a lot of Eu seems locked in inactive species on EuOCl/γ Al2O3, these results indicate possible savings of nearly 16,000 USD per kg of catalyst compared to a bulk EuOCl catalyst. These very promising findings constitute a crucial step for process intensification of polyvinyl chloride production and exploring the potential of supported EuOCl catalysts in industrially-relevant reactions.

Project 2 Abstract: Alkyne Semihydrogenation
Despite strongly suffering from poor noble metal utilization and a highly toxic selectivity modifier (Pb), the archetypal catalyst applied for the three-phase alkyne semihydrogenation, the Pb-doped Pd/CaCO3 (Lindlar catalyst), is still being utilized at industrial level. Inspired by the very recent strategies involving the modification of Pd with p-block elements (i.e., S), this work extrapolates the concept by preparing crystalline metal phosphides with controlled stoichiometry. To develop an affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional hydrogenation catalysts, nickel, a metal belonging to the same group as Pd and capable of splitting molecular hydrogen has been selected. Herein, a simple two-step synthesis procedure involving nontoxic precursors was used to synthesize bulk nickel phosphides with different stoichiometries (Ni2P, Ni5P4, and Ni12P5) by controlling the P:Ni ratios. To uncover structural and surface features, this catalyst family is characterized with an array of methods including X-ray diffraction (XRD), 31P magic-angle nuclear magnetic resonance (MAS-NMR) spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Bulk-sensitive techniques prove the successful preparation of pure phases while XPS analysis unravels the facile passivation occurring at the NixPy surface that persists even after reductive treatment. To assess the characteristic surface fingerprints of these materials, Ar sputtering was carried out at different penetration depths, reveling the presence of Ni+ and P-species. Continuous-flow three-phase hydrogenations of short-chain acetylenic compounds display that the oxidized layer covering the surface is reduced under reaction conditions, as evidenced by the induction period before reaching the steady state performance. To assess the impact of the phosphidation treatment on catalytic performance, the catalysts were benchmarked against a commercial Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 sample. While Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 presents very low selectivity to the alkene (the selectivity is about 10% at full conversion) attributed to the well-known tendency of naked nickel nanoparticles to form hydrides, the performance of nickel phosphides is highly selective and independent of P:Ni ratio. In line with previous findings on PdxS, kinetic tests indicate the occurrence of a dual-site mechanism where the alkyne and hydrogen do not compete for the same site.

This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

D. Albani; K. Karajovic; B. Tata; Q. Li; S. Mitchell; N. López; J. Pérez-Ramírez. Ensemble Design in Nickel Phosphide Catalysts for Alkyne Semi-Hydrogenation. ChemCatChem 2019. doi.org/10.1002/cctc.201801430

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2019-05

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Determination of Higher Heating Value for Algal Products

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Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Algae represents one of many pathways for the sustainable replacement of fossil fuels in transportation. When processing and researching algal biofuel, determination of the higher heating value (HHV) is paramount. Bomb calorimetry represents to current method for

Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Algae represents one of many pathways for the sustainable replacement of fossil fuels in transportation. When processing and researching algal biofuel, determination of the higher heating value (HHV) is paramount. Bomb calorimetry represents to current method for direct determination of HHV. When determining HHV’s indirectly, the industry standard is using one of many linear correlations relating elemental composition to HHV. Most of these correlations were developed from coal industry data, meaning that they do not necessarily fit algal product data well. In this study bomb calorimetry data and CHNS/O elemental composition data were collected for Chlorella, Micract, GS 5587.1, Kirchnella, and Gal 87.1 MM8 algae species. This data was added to CHNS/O and HHV values for other algal products in literature, and utilized to test the accuracy of the Dulong, Gumz, Vandralek and Boie correlations for algae products. Several preliminary algae specific correlations were proposed through a linear regression model of the data. Of the 5 samples tested, Kirchnella exhibited the highest HHV (23.2405 ± 0.0216 MJ/kg) and Chlorella exhibited the lowest (20.2055 ± 0.0484 MJ/kg). For both the experimental, and literature CHNS/O vs HHV data, the Vandralek and Boie correlations provided the best approximations in this study. For the totality of the data collected and researched in this study, 6 of 8 proposed correlations outperformed the Vandralek equation for HHV approximation. The most promising proposed correlations incorporated multiple linear regressions for elemental fractions of CHS, CHSO and CHNSO. Being that only 20 distinct algal product samples were regressed to create the proposed correlations, more data should be incorporated before publication of a final correlation. This study should serve as a starting point for the compilation of an exhaustive database for algal product assay and HHV data.

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2017-05

Process Design and Refinement for Bioproduction of Sustainable Butanol

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This document outlines the research work done by Shona Becwar in the process design and refinement for the production of sustainable butanol from Clostridium, along with the required background knowledge on the subject. The process that the microbiological organisms go

This document outlines the research work done by Shona Becwar in the process design and refinement for the production of sustainable butanol from Clostridium, along with the required background knowledge on the subject. The process that the microbiological organisms go through to produce butanol must be an oxygen free environment for up to 21 days with multiple perforations made into the environment in this period. There was not previously a cost effective method to do this, even in small scale. It was determined that using a butyl rubber septa would allow for the environment to be sustained during the growth process. The pervaporation process was losing butanol product at a rate of approximately 60%, changing the tubing from silicon to stainless steel allowed for a mere 7% loss during the separation process, greatly increasing the prospective of upscaling this process. These improvements to the sustainable butanol production process will allow for a more efficient, therefore more economically competitive product which can be used as a drop in equivalent to the current butanol market.

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2016-05

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Synthesis and Characterization of Thin Supported PDMS/ZIF-71 Films for Pervaporative Biofuel Recovery

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The recovery of biofuels permits renewable alternatives to present day fossil fuels that cause devastating effects on the planet. Pervaporation is a separation process that shows promise for the separation of ethanol from biologically fermentation broths. The performance of thin

The recovery of biofuels permits renewable alternatives to present day fossil fuels that cause devastating effects on the planet. Pervaporation is a separation process that shows promise for the separation of ethanol from biologically fermentation broths. The performance of thin film composite membranes of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and zeolite imidazolate frameworks (ZIF-71) dip coated onto a porous substrate are analyzed. Pervaporation performance factors of flux, separation factor and selectivity are measured for varying ZIF-71 loadings of pure PDMS, 5 wt%, 12.5 wt% and 25 wt% at 60 oC with a 2 wt% ethanol/water feed. The increase in ZIF-71 loadings increased the performance of PDMS to produce higher flux, higher separation factor and high selectivity than pure polymeric films.

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2014-05

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Performance Metrics of US Renewable Energy Initiatives

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This study was conducted to better understand the making and measuring of renewable energy goals by the federal government. Three different energy types are studied: wind, solar, and biofuel, for two different federal departments: the Department of Defense and the

This study was conducted to better understand the making and measuring of renewable energy goals by the federal government. Three different energy types are studied: wind, solar, and biofuel, for two different federal departments: the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. A statistical analysis and a meta-analysis of current literature will be the main pieces of information. These departments and energy types were chosen as they represent the highest potential for renewable energy production. It is important to understand any trends in goal setting by the federal government, as well as to understand what these trends represent in terms of predicting renewable energy production. The conclusion for this paper is that the federal government appears to set high goals for renewable energy initiatives. While the goals appear to be high, they are designed based on required characteristics described by the federal government. These characteristics are most often technological advancements, tax incentives, or increased production, with tax incentives having the highest priority. However, more often than not these characteristics are optimistic or simply not met. This leads to the resetting of goals before any goal can be evaluated, making it difficult to determine the goal-setting ability of the federal government.

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2015-05

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Design of an Ethanol Fermentation Plant

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Ethanol is a widely used biofuel in the United States that is typically produced through the fermentation of biomass feedstocks. Demand for ethanol has grown significantly from 2000 to 2015 chiefly due to a desire to increase energy independence and

Ethanol is a widely used biofuel in the United States that is typically produced through the fermentation of biomass feedstocks. Demand for ethanol has grown significantly from 2000 to 2015 chiefly due to a desire to increase energy independence and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with transportation. As demand grows, new ethanol plants must be developed in order for supply to meet demand. This report covers some of the major considerations in developing these new plants such as the type of biomass used, feed treatment process, and product separation and investigates their effect on the economic viability and environmental benefits of the ethanol produced. The dry grind process for producing ethanol from corn, the most common method of production, is examined in greater detail. Analysis indicates that this process currently has the highest capacity for production and profitability but limited effect on greenhouse gas emissions compared to less common alternatives.

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2015-05

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Analysis of Free Standing Zeolitic Imidazolate Framework Inclusion Nano Composite (ZIFINC) Membranes on Ethanol/Water Separations

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Due to the environmental problems caused by global warming, it has become necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the planet. Biofuels, such as ethanol, have proven to release cleaner emissions when combusted. However, large scale production of these alcohols

Due to the environmental problems caused by global warming, it has become necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the planet. Biofuels, such as ethanol, have proven to release cleaner emissions when combusted. However, large scale production of these alcohols is uneconomical and inefficient due to limitations in standard separation processes, the most common being distillation. Pervaporation is a novel separation technique that utilizes a specialized membrane to separate multicomponent solutions. In this research project, pervaporation utilizing ZIF-71/PDMS mixed matrix membranes are investigated to see their ability to recover ethanol from an ethanol/aqueous separation. Membranes with varying nanoparticle concentrations were created and their performances were analyzed. While the final results indicate that no correlation exists between nanoparticle weight percentage and selectivity, this technology is still a promising avenue for biofuel production. Future work will be conducted to improve this existing process and enhance membrane selectivity.

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2015-05