Alumna Joan Brennecke Elected to National Academy of Engineers

Joan Brennecke, B.S. ChE '84Alumna Joan Brennecke, B.S. ChE ’84, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Engineers (NAE) for innovation in the use of ionic liquids and supercritical fluids for environmentally benign chemical processing-particularly stripping carbon dioxide from power plant gasses.

Brennecke currently works at the University of Notre Dame as the Keating-Crawford Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and as director of the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame.  

“It’s sort of like a lifetime achievement award,” Brennecke told The Observer, the college newspaper of Notre Dame.  “Kind of a stamp of approval that you’ve really made a difference, and that feels great.”

Brennecke has been working with ionic liquids, or low melting salts, for a variety of applications such as refrigerants, carbon dioxide absorbents and separation media.  The liquids have unique properties, like low vapor pressure and high boiling points, that mean they don’t contribute to air pollution and remain in a liquid state over a wide temperature range.  Her team has focused on using ionic liquids for separating carbon dioxide from gasses, particularly flue gas from power plants that supply approximately 85 percent of the primary energy in the US and have been linked to global warming.

“Current separation technology uses about about 30 percent of the energy from the power plant to do the separation process,” said Brennecke.  “This is very costly in terms of both energy and expense.  We’re developing ionic liquids to do those separations using less energy.”

Professor Keith Johnston was Brennecke’s undergraduate advisor and noticed her talent and accomplishments during her studies at UT Austin.  At that time she was inducted into the Texas Institute of Chemists and received the College of Engineering Outstanding Scholar-Leader Award, which is the top award given to a graduating senior.

“As a young faculty member, Joan became a world leader in thermodynamics and chemical kinetics in the field of supercritical fluids, which is of great interest in numerous commercial applications,” said Johnston. “Her rise in the field of ionic liquids was also very rapid. When she gave the lecture for the Professional Progress Award, one of the most distinguished awards of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, several thousand people showed up.  She is extremely respected by both faculty and students and has presented three seminars at UT since she graduated-we’re very proud of her.”

Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.  It honors those who have distinguished themselves in business and academic management, in technical positions, as university faculty, and as leaders in government and private engineering organizations.

About NAE:

The National Academy of Engineering was founded in 1964 to advance the well-being of the nation by promoting the profession of engineering.  Today, the private, independent, nonprofit institution has over 2,000 peer-elected members who help provide national leadership, expertise and insight for the federal government on matters regarding engineering and technology.

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