Jerry Crum, Zihan Huang, Jessica Muhlenkamp (CISTAR)

CISTAR: Responsibly Realizing the Potential of Shale Gas Resources

February 19, 2020

Feb 2020 Pdgs Feature

Graduate students Jerry Crum (Schneider lab), Zihan Huang (Guo lab), and Jessica Muhlenkamp (Hicks lab) gave a joint presentation about the Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR) titled, "CISTAR: Responsibly Realizing the Potential of Shale Gas Resources" at the ND Energy PD&GS Luncheon in February 2020.

CISTAR is an engineering research center funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Notre Dame is one of five universities collaborating on the project with lead institution Purdue University, and partner institutions Northwestern University, University of Texas at Austin, and the University of New Mexico.

Although it is widely accepted that renewable sources will be the long-term solution for a more sustainable energy future, CISTAR intends to use the abundant shale resources in the U.S. as a bridge fuel until renewables can support our needs. The vision is to create new technologies that will economically convert the light hydrocarbons found in shale formations to petrochemicals and transportation fuels. Upgrading the surplus shale gas would cut down on the need to vent or flare it.

The new technologies have the potential to reinvent the petrochemical and transportation fuel industry with small, modular processing plants strategically located near the vast shale reserves.  Novel catalytic materials are needed to meet the challenges of a smaller scale distributed processing system.

Within CISTAR, there are five research thrusts aimed at reducing the amount of wasted shale gas in the U.S. The presentation highlighted three of those research areas:

  • Muhlenkamp’s focus is alkane dehydrogenation in Thrust 1. She studies how to remove two hydrogens from a carbon chain to make it active for Thrust 2.
  • Crum is part of the alkene oligomerization team on Thrust 2. He looks at using zeolite catalysts to combine carbon chains.
  • Huang works on gas separations in Thrust 5, which focuses mainly on providing oxygen that is essential for catalysis processes.

The nature of the large-center grant leads to collaborations not only within a campus, but also between the campuses of all partner institutions.

“We have two meetings each year, and even though we are working on different gas separations and catalysis, we talk a lot between us,” Huang said, noting that she is currently working on a project with collaborators from the University of Texas at Austin.

The computational work in the Schneider group lends itself to requests for models from various groups within CISTAR.

“As modelers, we’ve got this unique situation where we can help out with anybody who wants to understand their projects at an atomistic level,” Crum said.

Crum and Huang agreed that Notre Dame is the right place for them to conduct their research. Both lauded the sense of community among the graduate students that make their everyday interactions enjoyable. They were also complimentary of the well-connected faculty members in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering who support and promote opportunities for collaboration.

“The resources that Notre Dame provides for our department, as well as the care and attention I get from the faculty has facilitated my growth as a researcher,” Crum said.

For Huang, the resources at Notre Dame include the instrumentation she uses at ND Energy’s Materials Characterization Facility (MCF).

“The research quality that can be done here is very impressive,” Huang said.

Along with administrative support, ND Energy provides education and outreach services for CISTAR. As the Student Leadership Council representative for Notre Dame, Crum makes sure all CISTAR graduate students are participating in the various outreach activities such as Science Alive and the TRiO program.

In addition to the five universities, CISTAR’s stakeholders include 29 industrial members and 13 innovation partners. The continuous interaction with companies is an attractive feature for graduate students to work on the project. Both Crum and Huang plan to go into industry after completing their graduate studies.

“I want my research efforts to be very directly put into the real world applications,” Huang said.