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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

ChemE Dow Chemical Graduate Fellow helps to develop nanofibers that scrub sulfur from fuels

Developing an easier way to remove sulfur from the fuel during production was the focus of University of Illinois researchers, including a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student.

Mayank Behl, a ChemE graduate student, worked with University of Illinois researchers to develop scalable mats of metal oxide nanofibers that scrub sulfur from fuels better than traditional materials. Sulfur is found in raw fuels such as natural gas and coal and is poisonous to catalysts and corrosive to metals and needs to be removed.

The researchers’ findings were recently published in the December 2012 Nature Nanotechnology in an article titled, “A regenerable oxide-based H2S adsorbent with nanofibrous morphology.”

Behl was one of the authors of the paper and says the research shows that these nanofibers could help lower costs and improve performance of catalysts used in fuel refining, toxic gas removal, and other advanced energy applications.

The work in the paper was conceptualized while Behl was working with Professor Mark Shannon of Mechanical Science and Engineering, who passed away earlier this year. Behl now is part of Chemistry Professor Prashant Jain’s research group, where he is studying the underlying workings of photocatalysts. He wants to develop experimental methods that assist in correlating site-specific structure and electronic properties of semiconducting oxides with their photoactivity.

Illinois researchers have developed scalable mats of metal oxide nanofibers that scrub sulfur from fuels better than traditional materials. Photo by Prashant Jain
Illinois researchers have developed scalable mats of metal oxide nanofibers that scrub sulfur from fuels better than traditional materials. Photo by Prashant Jain

While studying chemical engineering as an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technololgy in Delhi, Behl said that to have a better understanding of his research area in heterogeneous catalysis and adsorbents, he wanted to have multidisciplinary training that combined basic and applied research.

He found that at Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois.

“ChBE’s emphasis on multi-disciplinary research and previous successful collaborations with industry attracted me to U of I,” he says. “In addition, the extensive materials characterization and fabrication facilities available here are well-known around the world.”

Behl, who received a Dow Chemical Company Graduate Fellowship, says the financial support helped him to complete his research for the sulfur adsorbent project. In 2011, Dow Chemical pledged a gift to establish the Dow Chemical Company Graduate Fellows in Chemical Engineering; 12 graduate students were named fellows in the inaugural class.

He says he is leaning toward a career in academia after earning his doctorate. He says the academia-industry collaboration is much needed today. “Dow Chemical Company’s recent initiative in this direction is highly commendable,” he says. “This approach promises to be more efficient in solving many of our real-world challenges.”

Read the entire paper at Nature Nanotechnology.

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