Chemical Engineering

doctor tracy benson performing lab experiments with a student


Dr. Tracy Benson, Associate Professor in the Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering, and his research team understand the need to mitigate the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel production and have found much success in research involving carbon capture, storage and utilization. Through his work, industry powerhouse companies will be able to utilize his findings to lessen the environmental impact of using fossil fuels.

Long term viability and sustained livelihoods of our planet’s growing economies are at the forefront of today’s technological advances. Fossil Fuels (i.e. crude oils, natural gas and coal) are expected to be the major sources of energy for the next several decades, mitigating the environmental impact of waste carbon dioxide has become the focal point of Dr. Benson’s research platform. The research team seeks to develop economical solutions to engage both Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) and Carbon Utilization (CU) technologies.

Through a collaborative partnership with the University of Texas at Austin, geologic research has revealed subsurface stratigraphy of onshore and offshore areas in the Gulf of Mexico that have extensive seals that could permanently sequester carbon dioxide. Current CCS work includes the equation of state analysis to determine the permeability and diffusivity for deep well injection for supercritical carbon dioxide. In addition to storage, deep well injection of waste carbon dioxide is used in Enhanced Oil Recovery, a method used to push subsurface crude oil through bedrock to oil production wells.

Dr. Benson’s research investigates the use of tri-reforming and low-temperature photocatalytic conversion of carbon dioxide to useful fuels and chemicals. Both technologies breakdown carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide using methane and water for a hydrogen source to produce a synthesis gas (i.e. carbon monoxide and dihydrogen). Synthesis gas, a feedstock for Fischer – Tropsch processes, can then be converted to long-chain hydrocarbons (i.e. gasoline, kerosene and diesel) and to long-chain alcohols.

“Utilizing information found through CCS and UC technologies, we’re beginning to discover new information assisting in carbon capture, storage and utilization,” said Benson, “sustainable methods will continue to improve emissions standards and increase profitability for all industries.”