Published August 4, 2022
Professor Miao Yu has recently received the Neil Yeoman Innovation Award from the AIChE for his outstanding contributions to solving energy and environmental problems using nanoporous materials. The emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), mainly caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, has increased sharply since the 1900s, and is the most significant driver of global warming, ocean acidification, and climate change. Targeting efficient CO2 capture from both point sources and the atmosphere, Yu’s group is engineering various nanoporous materials as the basic building blocks to design and generate unique advanced nanostructures to either selectively adsorb CO2 (by adsorbents) or allow selective permeation of CO2 (by membranes).
In addition to CO2 capture/removal, Yu’s group is developing carbon conversion technologies to transform CO2 into valuable products in an efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly manner. Specifically, Yu’s group is focused on membrane reactor (MR) technology to efficiently convert CO2 into methanol, dimethyl carbonate, and dimethyl ether, which can be used directly as fuels or as fuel additives. The core of the Yu group’s MR technology is a microporous inorganic membrane, which allows permeation of small polar molecules, such as water (H2O) and ammonia (NH3), while blocking molecules as small as hydrogen (H2). Adoption of this highly selective membrane in the reaction system was found to boost CO2 conversion by 2-3 times.
Finally, Yu’s group is researching renewable NH3 synthesis and H2 production from renewable NH3 decomposition. Although H2 is a clean and high energy density fuel, its transportation and storage are costly. NH3 is a highly effective chemical carrier for H2 that can drastically lower cost for H2 transportation and storage. Yu’s group is focused on modular MR technology to achieve high reaction rate and conversion at moderate temperature and pressure in a compact system, that will enable easy adoption in renewable H2 production sites at different scales. Once NH3 is produced, transported, and stored on site, one way of using it is to convert it back to H2. The group is therefore also working on H2 production from renewable NH3 decomposition. They will design, fabricate, and test a 5 kg H2/day scale prototype and demonstrate its use in vehicles.
Other research directions in Yu’s group include crude oil separation, organic solvent nanofiltration, gas mixture separation (air separation, natural gas purification, etc.), bioseparation, and water purification.