Waste Not, Want Not: Catalytic Conversion of Waste into Renewable Fuel

We are studying efficient ways to convert food waste (over 100 million tons a year in the US) and other waste into renewable energy, including both renewable natural gas and renewable diesel. Food waste consists of several energy rich components, including carbohydrates, proteins, and especially lipids. Recovering this energy in a usable form is challenging due to the water content of food waste (>50 wt%). The project includes experiments and mathematical modeling on processes to convert food waste, biomass, and sewage sludge to fuels and chemicals.

Faculty Advisor: Mike Timko | WPI (Chemical Engineering, Mechanical & Materials Engineering)

Teacher Component: The teacher would either perform reaction experiments in the lab, including product analysis, or run computer codes to predict performance. Specific activities might include synthesizing catalysts using chemical methods and characterizing them using various techniques to measure properties (e.g., surface area, acidity). After each experiment, products are recovered using a protocol involving solvent extraction, filtering, drying, and weighing. There will be opportunities to characterize the product using gas chromatography and spectroscopic methods to shed light on the molecular basis of the mechanism.