Chemical Engineering

The Chemical Engineering group researches all the relevant aspects of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, from fundamental science to engineering applications, working on scales that go from molecular-sized systems to large industrial plants.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • electrochemical energy storage and conversion
  • gas storage and separation and functional porous materials
  • photoelectrochemical and nanogravimetric sensors
  • the modelling of chemical kinetics in nuclear reprocessing activities
  • the modelling and optimisation of chemical kinetics for renewable and alternative fuels

Novel modelling and imaging techniques are studied and applied to a variety of processes that includes fossil fuel processing, alternative energy conversion, nuclear wastes and biological organs. The group is also active in energy integration and intensification for green and sustainable chemical processes, carbon dioxide utilisation (where carbon dioxide is used as a precursor to useful chemical commodities such as organic carbonates and polycarbonates), extraction of biologically active substances, photo-bio-reactors to grow biomass on an industrial scale and production of biodiesel. We also tackle research challenges in biomass utilisation, including solid-liquid separations, modelling and characterisation of complex rheology in organic suspensions, and in designing innovative distributed power generation from biomass and agricultural residues.

Research Areas

Energy Storage

We are focusing on new chemistries and materials that can offer improved performance for a range of applications.

Research is exploring how new chemistries and materials can improve the state-of-the-art electrochemical energy storage. Ongoing research include novel two-dimensional materials as electrodes for supercapacitors and novel electrodes for large-scale flow batteries.

Novel electrodes for large-scale flow battery energy storage devices

An important challenge in energy management is the timely delivery of power at the point of consumption, regardless of external factors such as availability of primary resources. As a result, energy storage is an important focus of energy research.

This project investigates the design and optimisation of flow battery based Energy Storage Systems, incorporating a fluidised bed of microparticles. These systems will be capable of producing a highly electronically conductive electrode such that resistive losses during charging and discharging are minimised (high-efficiency cell), producing sufficiently high mass transport of species during charging and discharging to support the reactions and having a very high specific surface area based on the particles alone giving a very high volumetric energy density. The project incorporates both simulation and theoretical modelling as well as an extensive experimental element.

Project Lead

  • Dr Fabrice Andrieux

Two-dimensional materials for high-capacity energy storage

MXenes, two-dimensional materials that result from the exfoliation of parent MAX phases, have shown remarkable features, making them attractive for a number of applications. We are currently synthesising and modifying MXenes for energy storage applications, especially for use as supercapacitor electrode materials.

MXenes are recent two-dimensional layered materials that result from the exfoliation of one of the phases in parent MAX phase materials. MXenes have so far shown a number of very interesting features, and they have shown to be excellent materials for electrodes in batteries and supercapacitors. We are currently synthesising, characterising and modifying MXenes for uses in energy storage, and tune their properties for improved performance. One of the particular areas we are looking at is to modify MXenes so that we can obtain higher capacitances, which will be useful for use as supercapacitor electrode materials.

Project Lead

  • Dr Nuno Bimbo

Fuel Cells

We have considerable interest and expertise in the area of electrochemical energy conversion and storage.

The research covers a wide range of fuel cell, batteries and gas storage projects exploring both the fundamental materials and system-level considerations. Research includes both EPSRC and industry-funded projects through schemes such as the H2FC Supergen, CASE studentships and via our industrial networks. We have an extensive range of facilities including usual analytical and electrochemical diagnostic equipment but also two gas safe laboratories and capability for the automated unattended running of devices.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Ceres Power

The core product of Ceres Power Limited (CPL) is an innovative design, the Steel Cell (SC), is a stainless steel Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) forming the core component of the wider Ceres Technology Platform (CTP).

The Steel Cell is a clever combination of metallic and ceramic components that produces efficient, low carbon, reliable and cost-effective power generation at the point of use. As part of the development of the Steel Cell, further understanding of the materials used in the volume production of this SOFC technology will highlight potential advancements in the manufacturing systems and allow the generation of useful predictive behavioural models of the components as they undergo processing. This project looks to capitalise on the knowledge of both sides of the partnership to develop such material data and enhance commercial deployment of the Ceres Technology Platform by optimising performance and cost.

Project Lead

  • Dr Richard Dawson

Novel diagnostic tools and techniques for monitoring and control of SOFC stacks - understanding mechanical and structural change

We are undertaking research activities specific to EPRSC grant ref. EP/M02346X/1 concerning the development of novel diagnostic techniques and understanding of mechanical and structural degradation mechanisms in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).

The project is a part of a major UK-South Korea collaborative project with Imperial College London and Loughborough University as UK partners and KIER, POSTECH and Hankook Oil as Korean partners. Lancaster’s role in the project is to provide an understanding of the structural response of anode-supported SOFCs (designs from partners) during various operational cycles. This will are developing structural simulations by finite element analysis and high-resolution optical experimental techniques to validate the models and observe change and failure in anode-supported SOFC.

Project Lead

  • Dr Richard Dawson

Chemical Processes

Modelling, imaging and sensing of chemical processes is an important research area in the Department and current projects include the development of sensors and the modelling and imaging of chemical reactions, among others.

Projects include:

  • the development of physicochemical models for biogas and bio-syngas for clean energy utilisation from renewable gaseous fuels
  • the visualisation of local temperature and concentration inside chemical reactors using near-infrared tomography
  • developing models for the mechanisms and chemical kinetics of biomass conversion to liquid and gaseous fuels
  • the development of 3D modelling of the hydrogen isotopic exchange process inside stripping columns
  • the development of a micro-optical ring electrode for multiple actinide ions monitoring

The Micro-Optical Ring Electrode: A Sensor for Multiple Actinide ions Monitoring

The Micro-Optical Ring Electrode (MORE) is an electrochemical sensor consisting of a fibre optic light guide, which allows the delivery of light to the test environment, triggering a series of photochemical reactions and a concentric gold ring microelectrode capable of reducing (or oxidizing) small amounts of products of those reactions.

One of the challenges faced by the nuclear industry is the safe characterisation, retrieval and treatment of materials both during processing and for the purposes of decommissioning. For example, fuel processing would benefit from the fast and in situ monitoring of key actinide ions such as Uranium, Neptunium and Plutonium to help track progress of extraction stages. Likewise decommissioning of plants such as high hazard ponds present at a number of civil nuclear sites (e.g. Sellafield, Harwell, Winfrith) requires the full and accurate characterization of the supernatant with minimum involvement from human operators, because of the radiological conditions around those ponds. A device capable of in-situ analysis of those environments is therefore desirable.

The Micro-Optical Ring Electrode (MORE) is an electrochemical sensor consisting of a central fibre optic light guide, which allows for the delivery of light to the test environment, triggering a series of photochemical reactions and a concentric gold ring microelectrode capable of reducing (or oxidizing) the very small amounts of the products of those photochemical reactions and generate a photocurrent, measured by an external potentiostat. A mathematical model has been devised which correlates the electrochemical signal received by the potentiostat to the concentration of the analyte present in the bulk solution. Previous studies with this device have shown that this electrochemical response is dependent on (i) the illumination wavelength which must correspond to an absorbance peak of the target analyte and (ii) the working potential of the device which must be able to drive the oxidation or reduction of the products of the photochemical process. The MORE offers two modes of differentiation (photochemical and electrochemical) allowing for analytes with similar physicochemical properties to be monitored using a single device.

Uranium, plutonium and neptunium are possessed of singular spectrophotometric signatures (λmax U(VI)=420nm, Pu(III)=565nm, Pu(IV)=475nm and Np(IV)=725nm), which makes the photoexcitation of a single analyte in the presence of a mixture possible, indicating that simultaneous analysis of these species using a single MORE is possible. The aims of this project are to confirm the feasibility of multiple analyte monitoring using a single MORE by tuning both the excitation wavelength and the detection potential of the electrode, to investigate the potential interference from extraneous species in the analyte solution, and adapt the established mathematical model for the MORE to systems consisting of several analytes and under the target conditions.

Project Lead

  • Dr Fabrice Andrieux

Visualization of local temperature and concentration inside packed bed reactors by near-infrared tomography

This project looks by diffuse near-infrared tomography at local concentration and temperature distributions inside packed bed reactors/adsorbers/diffusers, where water vapour and its isotopes are used as tracer examples owing to their highly spectral absorptions in near-infrared.

Conventional development strategies in which the catalyst is developed independently of reactor design have shown their limitations in providing a detailed solution at various scale levels of the reactor design. There is a need to carry out catalyst and reactor development simultaneously and improve the integration of catalytic chemistry and reaction engineering. The aim of this project is to develop research strategies to investigate heterogeneous gas-solid catalytic reactors based on the spatiotemporal information. Gas-solid heterogeneous systems use packed beds in chemical technology such as reactors, separators, dryers or filters and energy generation technology such as combustion, fuel cells or energy storage. The design of packed beds with a detailed knowledge of local data in terms of composition, temperature and fluid dynamics is of utmost importance as suggested by recent developments of computational fluid dynamics. Experimental validations, however, are still not sufficiently mature.  This project looks by diffuse near-infrared tomography at local concentration and temperature distributions inside packed bed reactors/adsorbers/diffusers, where water vapour and its isotopes are used as tracer examples owing to their highly spectral absorptions in near-infrared. Flow maldistribution and uneven maps of temperature and composition in the core packed bed have been clearly observed which allow fine-tuning of local heat uptake/resource and cross-mixing profiles that were partly anticipated by CFD simulations.

Visualization of local temperature and concentration inside packed bed reactors by near-infrared tomography

Project Lead

  • Dr Farid Aiouache

Biomass Utilisation

Biomass utilisation is a vibrant research area in the Department, with experimental and simulation projects covering a large number of areas. Some of these projects are carried out in collaboration with industry.

Research is looking at the production of biodiesel from waste biomass (with spent coffee grounds as feedstock), enhancement of biogas production using wastewater derived catalysts and the design of photo-bio-reactors to grow biomass on an industrial scale for production of biodiesel. Research is also active in solid-liquid separations, characterisation of complex rheology in organic suspensions and innovative distributed power generation from biomass and agricultural residues.

Enhancing biomass gasification properties using embedded wastewater derived catalysts

This work introduces an innovative method to improve combustion performance by coating biomass pellets with inorganic of sodium silicates and waste sludges prepared by the sol-gel techniques thereby creating catalytically enhanced biomass pellets.

The physical properties such as compression strength, stability, density, porosity, humidity content and biological degradation of the developed pellets were investigated as a function of their formulation and the energetic properties were investigated by TPO and gasification tests. The catalytic properties of the binding films in the pellets are giving promising results as they were able to degrade the problematic tars, increased hydrogen production and avoided potential fouling in the packed bed.

Project Lead

  • Dr Farid Aiouache

Mechanisms and chemical kinetics of biomass conversion to liquid and gaseous fuels

This project aims to establish practical kinetics models of biomass conversion into liquid and gas fuels including that engineers can use under a wide range of operating conditions.

Increasing environmental concerns about carbon dioxide production coupled with an increase in oil prices are turning the bio-refinery option to be attractive as a viable route for renewable energy production.  The bio-refinery concept is similar to the concept of a petroleum refinery as it integrates a variety of processing techniques to covert a range of biomass feeds of complex mixtures into a variety of fuels, power, heat, and value-added chemicals.  This project aims to establish practical kinetics models of biomass conversion into liquid and gas fuels including that engineers can use under a wide range of operating conditions. The biomass-conversion includes steps of hydrolysis to sugars, dehydration to polyols, aldol condensation and hydrogenation to liquid fuels or reforming to hydrogen fuels. The kinetic models achieved provide a promising option to produce, under controlled operating conditions, the desired route towards hydrogen, light or heavy oxygenates and alkanes products from biomass-derived oxygenates.

Project Lead

  • Dr Farid Aiouache

Waste as resource: Extraction of valuable substances

One of the challenges facing food and agriculture industry is how to process waste materials to create valuable products. The research led by Dr Vesna Najdanovic aims to develop new and innovative ways to convert waste into useful products by creating a resource from the residual materials, including fermentation broth, agricultural and food industry wastes.

New technologies such as pollution controls and combustion engineering have advanced to the point that emissions from burning biomass in industrial facilities are generally lower than emissions produced when using fossil fuels. The volume of biomass available to be burned is increasing, and therefore it is possible to extract a significant amount of valuable chemicals in relatively large volume, given the volumes of available biomass. Many of these chemicals (antioxidants, nucleotides, oils etc.) have a high value on the market. The aim of this project is to characterise and recover various useful chemicals from residual biomass including fermentation broth, olive stones, nettles and so forth.

Project Lead

  • Dr Vesna Najdanovic

Clean energy utilisation from biogas and biomass gasification

This project aims to develop realistic and predictive physicochemical models for biogas and bio-syngas combustion and mappings between the combustion and emission characteristics and the fuel compositions for clean energy utilisation from renewable gaseous fuels.

The project will provide a better understanding of the complex physicochemical processes of bioenergy utilisation, which can advance bioenergy technology towards deployment. Based on rigorous modelling and experimentation, the project will deliver a thorough understanding of the utilisation of biogas and bio-syngas, highlighting the effects of variable composition.

Clean Energy Utilisation from Biogas and Biomass Gasification

Green Chemistry

The Department is very active in the area of green chemistry, with research focusing on using waste as a resource, and generating valuable products from waste materials. 

Research in Green Chemistry ranges from CO2 utilisation, where CO2 is used as a precursor for other chemical commodities such as carbonates, to research involving the extraction of biologically active substances from waste products.

Carbon dioxide utilisation

Reactions between CO2 and epoxides are one of the most promising applications for chemical utilization of CO2 as a renewable carbon source in the production of carbonates. The research led by Dr Vesna Najdanovic aims to enhance yields and selectivity of organic carbonates production by phase equilibrium-controlled kinetics.

Organic carbonates are valuable synthetic products, with diverse applications such as polar aprotic solvents, electrolytes for lithium batteries, fuel additives and intermediates in the manufacture of chemicals. In this work, the production of various organic carbonates from corresponding epoxide and carbon dioxide under high-pressure is studied. Reactions in high-pressure dense CO2 are versatile - they can be carried out either in a single phase or in a biphasic system simply by adjusting pressure and temperature. There are numerous examples in the literature where a homogeneous single-phase offers more favourable conditions for fast reaction rates and chemo-selectivity.

In other circumstances, it is a heterogeneous system that can dramatically increase reaction rate or influence the outcome of a reaction due to the ability of CO2 to bring the gaseous reactants into the liquid medium, facilitating mass transfer. These effects of CO2 pressure and temperature on the organic carbonate formation are investigated in this project.

This integrated approach to study reaction kinetics and phase equilibria is a useful tool to determine the conditions of pressure and temperature under which the maximal concentration of the reactants in the vicinity of the catalyst is achieved, substantially improving attainable yields over the current state-of-the-art.

Project Lead

  • Dr Vesna Najdanovic

Waste as resource: extraction of valuable substances

One of the challenges facing food and agriculture industry is how to process waste materials to create valuable products. The research led by Dr Vesna Najdanovic aims to develop new and innovative ways to convert waste into useful products by creating a resource from the residual materials, including fermentation broth, agricultural and food industry wastes.

New technologies such as pollution controls and combustion engineering have advanced to the point that emissions from burning biomass in industrial facilities are generally lower than emissions produced when using fossil fuels. The volume of biomass available to be burned is increasing, and therefore it is possible to extract a significant amount of valuable chemicals in relatively large volume, given the volumes of available biomass. Many of these chemicals (antioxidants, nucleotides, oils etc.) have a high value on the market. The aim of this project is to characterise and recover various useful chemicals from residual biomass including fermentation broth, olive stones, nettles and so forth.

Project Lead

  • Dr Vesna Najdanovic

Clean energy utilisation from biogas and biomass gasification

This project aims to develop realistic and predictive physicochemical models for biogas and bio-syngas combustion and mappings between the combustion and emission characteristics and the fuel compositions for clean energy utilisation from renewable gaseous fuels.

The project will provide a better understanding of the complex physicochemical processes of bioenergy utilisation, which can advance bioenergy technology towards deployment. Based on rigorous modelling and experimentation, the project will deliver a thorough understanding of the utilisation of biogas and bio-syngas, highlighting the effects of variable composition.

Clean Energy Utilisation from Biogas and Biomass Gasification

Project Lead

  • Dr Vesna Najdanovic

Biodiesel production from waste biomass

Food-based feedstock for biodiesel production is limited by competition with land used for food production, which makes sustainability a critical issue. Therefore, in the last decade, an effort was made in developing the use of agricultural waste as alternative raw materials for biodiesel production. This project led by Dr Vesna Najdanovic investigates in-situ transesterification of spent coffee grounds, coupling extraction and conversion in one pot operation.

Europe produces large amounts of spent coffee grounds (SCGs) which is a vast resource of lipids and lignocellulosic material. SCGs contain on average up to 20 % of lipids (87–93% of which are triglycerides) that can be converted to biodiesel and lignocellulosic material which can be an energy source in the form of fuel pellets. The cost of raw materials, mainly oil and methanol, accounts for 75–90% of the total cost of biodiesel, and thus, the use of low-cost oil-rich residues, such as SCG, can have a significant effect on the economy and the environmental impact of biodiesel production.

Biodiesel production from waste biomass

Project Lead

  • Dr Vesna Najdanovic

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Facilities

Publications

Projects

Outreach: Brewing a cup of chemical engineering
01/06/2017 → 17/07/2017
Consultancy

Team-based learning for first year engineering students
01/12/2016 → 31/10/2017
Other

Porous two-dimensional layered materials for high-capacity energy storage
04/04/2016 → 30/09/2019
Research

HPC4E: HPC for Energy
01/12/2015 → 30/09/2017
Research

Enhancing biomass gasification properties using embedded waste water derived catalysts
01/09/2015 → 31/07/2017
Other

Spatial Distribution of Blood Flow in Peripheral Vein Network by Non-Invasive Near-Infrared Imaging
01/07/2015 → 31/07/2017
Other

Novel diagnostic techniques for realtime monitoring and control of SOFC stacks
01/03/2015 → 30/11/2018
Research

KTP with Ceres Power Ltd
05/01/2015 → 04/01/2018
Research

UK Consortium on Turbulent Reacting Flows (UKCTRF)
08/01/2014 → 07/01/2019
Research

3D modelling by computer fluid dynamics of local interactions of momentum, mass and heat transfers with catalyst deactivation in gas-solid catalytic reactors of low aspect ratios
01/11/2013 → 31/10/2017
Other

Hydrogen-Water Isotopic Exchange in a Trickle Bed Column by Process Simulation and 3D Computer Fluid Dynamics Modelling
01/11/2013 → 31/10/2017
Other

Visualization of local temperature and concentration inside packed bed reactors by near-infrared tomography
01/11/2013 → 31/10/2017
Other

Recovery of metal value from end of life PEMFC
22/10/2013 → 21/01/2015
Research

Clean Energy Utilisation from Biogas and Biomass Gasification
21/10/2013 → 31/08/2017
Research

UK Turbulence Consortium
01/07/2013 → 30/06/2018
Research

FST CASE Studentship: AFC Energy
01/01/2013 → 31/12/2016
Research

Electro-spraying combustion of liquid fuel in microchannel
01/01/1900 → …
Research