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Exploring energy challenges

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Grad students win opportunity to work at U.S. National Labs

Aerial view of Argonne National Lab

The Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago is a sophisticated Department of Energy research site where a UD graduate student is working this semester.

During this fall semester, CAS graduate student Carly Byron is getting the opportunity to work with some of modern sciences most advanced tools, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energys (DOE) National Laboratories.

The doctoral student in chemistry and biochemistry, from Rochester, New York, is one of two UD students who are among 62 graduate students from 50 universities nationwide selected to receive competitive grants from the DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program. The awards support the students travel and up to $3,000 per month in living expenses while in residence at a National Lab, a period that may range from three to 12 months.

Byron wants to capture greenhouse gases and convert them into renewable fuels. At Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, she is looking forward to using a synchrotron called the Advanced Photon Source a particle accelerator the size of a football field that works like a giant microscope.

When an electron inside this synchrotron is accelerated to almost the speed of light and forced to switch directions using magnetic fields, the electron emits an X-ray. This blazing light is beamed to laboratory workstations for illuminating the chemistry and structure of a material, atom by atom, in 3D.

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Student Carly Byron

Doctoral student Carly Byron wants to capture greenhouse gases and convert them into renewable fuels.

Im very excited to win the DOE grant, said Byron, whose doctoral adviser is Prof. Andrew Teplyakov in UDs Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. It will enable me to further characterize the catalysts Im studying. I'm very grateful for this opportunity, given that there are less than 20 synchrotron facilities in the U.S.

Byrons research focuses on hydrocarbon-reforming chemical reactions, which have numerous applications in the renewable energy field.

She is examining highly active metal catalysts to find the best chemical spurs that will speed up the dry reforming of methane, which converts carbon dioxide and methane into synthesis gas. This syngas can then be further processed into renewable fuels.

This research is important in addressing the growing energy and environmental crisis, especially if we can capture greenhouse gases and transform them into a source of fuel on a wide scale, Byron said. Ideally, I hope it will lead to a reduction in the effects of global warming and a reliable source of energy.

Also this semester, doctoral student Jeffrey Hudson, from Marysville, Michigan, is heading to the National Energy and Technology Laboratory (NETL), located just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is taking a deeper look at the chemical interactions between iron and shale organic matter, with the goal to optimize oil and natural gas production from fracking wells.

Hudsons doctoral adviser is Prof. Yu-Ping Chin in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Winning this grant is an honor. I mean, how many people get to say they have a fellowship with the Department of Energy Office of Science? Hudson said. It will enable me to continue applying some of my analytical skills and knowledge to a new area of focus while also learning new lab skills.

Hudson and Byron continue UDs track record for winning these highly competitive grants. Last year, Margaret (Maggie) Capooci and Aeri Gosselin won funding and recently completed their fellowships.

Gosselin, a doctoral candidate in chemistry and biochemistry whose adviser is Prof. Eric Bloch, did research on porous molecules called coordination cages in the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California, hosted by Prof. Brett Helms. These unique molecules are being explored as a new designer material for making cheaper ways to store economically important gases such as hydrogen and methane.

Im driven by the real-world problems that we as a society currently face in terms of energy production and consumption, said Gosselin. Current energy storage methods are costly and require a large energy input to properly store, for example, natural gas. The successful design and implementation of these porous materials as a storage media would not only save money and energy, but also improve the overall safety of handling these gases.

Capooci is now completing her doctorate in the Water Science and Policy Program, working with adviser Prof. Rodrigo Vargas. She wants to expand understanding of the patterns and processes governing greenhouse gas emissions from tidal marsh soils and worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, California, with Prof. Karis McFarlane.

Article by Tracey Bryant; photos courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory and Carly Byron

Published Sept. 4, 2020

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Exploring energy challenges