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Grant boosts faculty research on desulfurization

A grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund will support the research of two Lamar University faculty members into new techniques to remove sulfur compounds from hydrocarbon fuels.students with assistant professor Suying Wei in chemistry lab

The $100,000 New Directions Award for Fundamental Research will enhance the research of John Zhanhu Guo, associate professor of chemical engineering, and Suying Wei, assistant professor of analytical chemistry, into pervaporation of sulfur compounds using elastomeric polymer nanocomposite membranes.

Grant reviewers described the research as important to the petroleum industry with the potential to advance the nanocomposite field by creating innovative polymer nanocomposites. One reviewer also commented on Guo’s and Wei’s “novel ways to train both undergraduate and graduate researchers” through the project.

Guo said the collaboration between faculty members and students from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences is mutually beneficial. “I will focus on the process, and she will focus on the chemical analysis and surface treatments,” Guo said. “I ask my students to learn the scientific facts from Dr. Wei, and her students come here to learn the engineering applications. Knowledge is advanced to achieve the goals, the objectives of our research. The students will have broader knowledge and broader horizons. That’s a benefit for our education here.”

Finding new methods to remove sulfur compounds from hydrocarbon fuels such as diesel and gasoline is important because the pollutant sulfur oxide released after combustion is damaging to engines, the environment and human health.

Current desulfurization techniques, Guo said, all have disadvantages, from high expense and energy usage to lower fuel quality and combustion value.

“What we are doing is using novel nanocomponents to serve as a membrane. This newly designed membrane will have a high selectivity to the sulfur compounds, so the sulfur compounds can be removed very easily,” Guo said.

The researchers plan to modify commercially available membranes that are used in water treatment. By modifying the surface with nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes, they hope to be able to selectively remove sulfur compounds, leading to greater yields of cleaner fuels. The advantages over existing techniques include high selectivity, high separation efficiency and energy savings.

The researchers also plan to evaluate factors such as ideal operating conditions, temperatures, flow rates, and sulfur levels, and to determine the potential lifetime and capacity of the membranes.

Graduate and undergraduate students from both the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering will participate in the research.