Seminar: Miguel Modestino, New York University

“Designing Electrochemical Processes for Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing” 

The chemical industry propelled human progress by using energy from fossil fuels and, in the process, inadvertently contributed to anthropogenic climate change. This industry outputs >70,000 products (1.2 billion tons in total), impacts more than 25% of the US GDP, and is responsible for ~5% of the US primary energy consumption (4.5 Quads). Thermochemical processes in this industry account for >93% of this energy consumption (>87% in the form of fossil-fuel-derived heat). Decarbonization of this industry would represent a giant step towards mitigating global warming. This urgent transition must integrate renewable energy sources with chemical manufacturing, ultimately resulting in the electrification of this industry via large-scale implementation of electrochemical manufacturing. Currently, however, two major challenges prevent the deployment of electrosynthesis reactors at scale: their low selectivity and their low production rates. This presentation will discuss reaction engineering opportunities to enhance the performance of organic electrosynthesis reactors. Specifically, I will present our work on understanding and improving the electrohydrodimerization process for the production of adiponitrile (ADN), a precursor to Nylon 6,6. Although this model reaction is the largest and most successful organic electrosynthesis implemented in industry, it faces many challenges owing to its limited energy conversion and selectivity. Through a combination of experimental electroanalytical characterization and machine learning, we elucidate guidelines for the optimal operation of ADN electrosynthetic reactors. Our results provide insights into mass transport limitations that affect the selectivity of organic electrosynthesis processes and on how to control electrode processes to mitigate them.

Miguel A. Modestino is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering of New York University (NYU). Miguel obtained his B.S in Chemical Engineering (2007) and M.S. in Chemical Engineering Practice (2008) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his Ph.D. in from the University of California, Berkeley (2013). From 2013-2016, he was a post-doctoral researcher at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland where he served as project manager for the Solar Hydrogen Integrated Nano-electrolysis (SHINE) project. He is a winner of the Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation (2016), the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Award in Latin America (2017) and Globally (2020), the ACS Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award (2018), the NSF CAREER Award (2019), the NYU Tandon Junior Faculty Research Award (2020), and the NYU Goddard Junior Faculty Fellowship Award (2020). He is the director of the Multifunctionals Materials Systems Laboratory at NYU which focusses on the development of advanced electrochemical technologies for the incorporation of renewable energy into chemical manufacturing. He is also co-founder of Sunthetics Inc., a startup developing electrochemical reactors for sustainable chemical manufacturing.

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