(GR3) Hydrothermal liquefaction of solvent-fractionated lignin for aromatic monomer production

Lignin is a natural aromatic biomacromolecule that exists as the second most abundant polymer. Its phenolic structure makes it a potential renewable source for organic compounds, especially those containing electron rich aromatic rings. However, valorizing lignin has presented a huge challenge owing to its recalcitrant nature. Co-solvent enhanced lignocellulosic fractionation (CELF) is an advanced biomass pretreatment technique that gives us a clean lignin byproduct. Depolymerizing CELF lignin via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), which is a green wet-based thermochemical conversion technique, produces aromatic hydrocarbon-rich biocrude or phenolic monomer chemicals. Hardwood derived CELF lignin yields approximately 52wt% of biocrude with valuable monomers like guaiacol, syringol, creosol, butylated hydroxytoluene, etc. Further processing and upgrading of biocrude could lead to production of usable biofuels.

(GR4) The Path Towards Fossil Fuel Disruption: Predicting Biofuel Costs with a Single Experiment and Thirty Seconds

Our current response to climate change has been through broad-spectrum electrification, as seen in electric vehicles, through the use of energy storage technology. However, to enable the long-distance travel required for freighting and aviation, the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels have yet to be beaten. We can leverage organic wet wastes to produce renewable, low carbon intensity biofuels using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL).

(GR5) Machine Learning for Materials Informatics

MXenes are a hot topic in materials science research because of their expected unique properties and myriad applications, such as more efficient energy conversion in batteries and solar cells, environmental and water treatment, and many additional applications. This project aims to produce Machine Learning (ML) models that accurately predict certain MXene properties – like electrical conductivity, work function, carrier density, mobility, life-time, and sensitivity to disorder – based on standard elemental information (e.g., electronegativity of each constituent element of the MXene, atomic mass of a MXene molecule, etc.), with training data found from literature as well as data produced by our project’s Density Functional Theory (DFT) team.

(UG2) A Cantilevered Piezoelectric Energy Harvester Driven by Vortex-Induced Vibrations on a Cylinder in Water

This Major Qualifying Project (MQP) team of seniors in Mechanical Engineering designed, built, and tested a renewable energy harvester from the flow of water through a river. This system converted the vortex-induced vibrations (VIV) of a cylinder into the bending of two cantilevers with two piezoelectric transducers attached to their fixed ends. The cantilever was designed so its natural frequency matches the vortex shedding frequency of the cylinder in a given water flow. The alternating current (AC) from the transducers was then converted into a direct current (DC) using a rectifying circuit with a diode bridge and a filter capacitor as well as a voltage regulator. This functional system, which achieved a maximum electrical power of 3.14 μW, has the capability of powering low-power electronics including temperature sensors. This can be scaled to produce more power by increasing the size of the device, particularly the piezoelectric strips, by having multiple devices of this sort beside one another to compound the output power, or by increasing the natural frequency of the resonating system.

(GR7) Gravity-Driven Multiple Effect Thermal System (G-METS) Distillation for Efficient Low-Cost Magnesium Refining

The process of multiple effect distillation for the recycling of magnesium can both increase efficiency and reduce cost by up to 90% when compared to batch distillation refinement. This presentation will detail goals and applications of a novel continuous gravity-driven multiple effect thermal system (G-METS) distillation process for magnesium alloys.

(GR8) Design of a Molten Salt Metal-Air Battery with High-Energy Density

Decarbonization of long-haul transportation i.e. ships and trains is among the toughest challenges toward eliminating greenhouse emissions, but metal-air batteries have extraordinary potential to meet this challenge. This talk will present experimental and modeling results for a novel molten salt magnesium-air battery with a MgCl‚-NaCl-KCl-MgO electrolyte operating at 420-620°C. O² dissolves at the cathodes and Mg² at solid magnesium anodes. Experimental results show 1.9 V open circuit voltage, which is the highest to date for an Mg-air battery. Modeling shows up to 0.5 W/cm² at 80% efficiency or 3.3 W/cm² at 42% efficiency. Directional solidification removes MgO reaction product from the molten salt electrolyte. The stability of the cathode material is another criterion for this fuel cell. This battery has the potential for 30-40 times the energy of lithium-ion batteries at very high efficiency, and its Mg anode and molten salt materials are abundant in seawater.

(UG4) Exploring the Feasibility of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors for Research and Energy at WPI

The increased risks of climate change are forcing communities to rethink how they meet their energy needs. In this project, we investigated the feasibility of integrating a small modular nuclear reactor (SMNR) at WPI for both research and power generation. During this investigation, we conducted interviews, directed a survey, and viewed carbon emissions data. By analyzing this information, we found that implementing an SMNR would benefit the institution by providing additional research opportunities and reducing overall emissions through the cogeneration of heat and electricity in a safe manner by utilizing SMNR technology as soon as 2026, when it is predicted to be commercially available.

(GR9) Rare Earth Metal Recycling Using a Novel, Low-cost Distillation Technology

We are perfecting a technology that will extract rare earth metals from magnet scrap because rare earth metals are in short supply in the United States. 95% of rare earth metal production is carried out in China, and right now, there are no U.S. producers. The only non-Chinese producers are Estonia, Vietnam, and Thailand- a small market.

We are looking to build a start-up in the U.S. to fill the vacuum, and part of our research is to prove that out.