Bridgette Befort (Dowling-Maginn Groups)

Integrated molecular and process design for the sustainable separation of azeotropic hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant mixtures

February 17, 2021

Befort Bridgette 7307

Bridgette Befort is a third-year graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. She presented "Integrated molecular and process design for the sustainable separation of azeotropic hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant mixtures" at the ND Energy PD&GS Seminar in February 2021.

Befort is co-advised by Profs. Alex Dowling and Edward Maginn on a project which aims to design processes that make separations in the chemical industry more efficient and sustainable. Specifically, the focus is on the phaseout of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant mixtures which are used in a wide variety of items such as household refrigerators and automobile air conditioning systems.

“It’s environmentally imperative right now,” Befort said. “Due to their high global warming potential, these refrigerants have been mandated to be phased out by different international agreements and most recently by the stimulus bill that was passed by the U.S. Congress at the end of December 2020.”

The phase out comes in the form of separations of these refrigerant mixtures.

“We don’t want to just throw the mixtures of refrigerants away. We want to break them up because their individual components can be recycled into new products,” Befort said.

Befort’s research is split into two different approaches to make the implementation of this phase out more sustainable. She floats between work on the molecular-level side with the Maginn group, while the Dowling group focuses more on the process-level side.

“We’re trying to design new molecules which will enable us to more efficiently separate these refrigerant mixtures into their usable components, and we’re also trying to design and optimize processes so we can actually make that separation affordable by reducing energy consumption,” Befort said.

Befort earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Kansas. She gained extensive research experience during her undergraduate career, mostly on the process-level side of optimization and modeling similar to her work in the Dowling lab.

“What interested me in this project at Notre Dame is that I could combine something new into an interest that I already had,” Befort said of the opportunity to explore molecular-level engineering in the Maginn lab.

In choosing Notre Dame, Befort was intrigued by the interdisciplinary nature of a co-advised research project, which has taught her the value of communication.

“Communication is really essential for interdisciplinary research,” Befort said. “If you can’t bridge gaps in understanding between different scientific communities, then productivity is very difficult.”

The Dowling and Maginn labs are among the eight ND Energy affiliated research groups which constitute the Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Laboratory (CoMSEL), a cross-college computational research and collaborative space for both scientists and engineers. Befort praised the sense of community in CoMSEL as an environment which has helped her learn and has supported her research.

Beyond her research goals, Befort feels Notre Dame provides many opportunities to develop leadership skills and serve the community. Befort serves as the Academic Affairs chair for the Graduate Student Union. She is active in many community outreach activities including Science Alive and the Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and she also volunteers weekly as a tutor for high school students in the South Bend area through the TRiO Upward Bound program.

“Being a scientist is a service job.” Befort said. “We’re supposed to be learning and discovering new information and technology, but this knowledge should be used to help each other and help the world.”