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New Centers

Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR)

Author: Emil Venere
Magazine Section: Strategic Growth Initiative
College or School: CoE
Article Type: Article
Feature Intro: The new Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR) will develop new technologies to produce fuels from U.S. shale-gas deposits that could inject $20 billion annually into the economy.
The last 10 years have witnessed an unprecedented revolution in the domestic supply of shale hydrocarbon reserves with the potential to lower the cost of our nation’s electricity, power, chemicals and fuels for the next 100 years.

If new technologies can be developed, energy experts project the U.S. will transition from a net importer to net exporter of energy resources by 2030. In addition, substitution of natural gas for coal for electrical power generation has and will continue to be a major contributor to the reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas until an economic, renewable energy future can be developed.

This is the goal behind Purdue’s Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources, or CISTAR, which received the highly competitive National Science Foundation engineering research center designation. It is one of only 19 currently active ERCs in the United States and one of four new ERCs announced in 2017.

The NSF chose Purdue to lead an engineering research center, which will develop new technologies to produce fuels from U.S. shale-gas deposits that could inject $20 billion annually into the economy.

The new approach proposes to convert light hydrocarbons from shale gas into chemicals and transportation fuels using a network of portable, modular processing plants. It is estimated that there is enough energy in shale to provide all of the nation’s transportation fuels for a hundred years.

CISTAR is housed in Purdue’s Discovery Park and is led by Fabio Ribeiro, the R. Norris and Eleanor Shreve Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Zige Huang and Michael Cordon

Collaboration Drives Innovation

The center includes academic teams of researchers from Purdue, the University of New Mexico, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as partners from industry, national laboratories and national and international research organizations.

“Until we can perfect renewable sources, we have a tremendous resource right here in the United States,” says Sangtae Kim, the Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Head of Chemical Engineering.

“We can use domestic shale resources as a bridge until renewable technologies can completely support our society’s needs for chemicals and transportation fuels.”

The team proposed a new process concept that, with innovations in catalysts, separation processes and reactor designs, is projected to be profitable at today’s energy prices, Ribeiro says.

These new technologies will help the United States maintain its manufacturing competitiveness while reducing the cost and potential environmental risks associated with gas and natural gas liquids transportation by pipeline, trucks and rail. The CISTAR process also will result in lower carbon emissions by reducing the cost of extracting natural gas and improving energy efficiency in converting light hydrocarbons to fuels and chemicals.

“The launch of CISTAR as an engineering research center continues Purdue Engineering’s proud heritage since three decades ago when it led one of the very first ERCs. CISTAR demonstrates how Chemical Engineering at Purdue is transforming our society’s energy future into an efficient and sustainable one,” says Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. “We are very proud of our faculty’s innovation. We are also confident that the economic benefits to the nation will be substantial as some of the technologies get transferred into commercial impact.”

The CISTAR research will be linked with educational, mentoring and outreach initiatives for students at all levels. Graduate students will have opportunities to engage in multi-institution collaborative research, to mentor undergraduate and K-12 students in research, and to plan and participate in K-12 outreach events. Undergraduate students will learn about the research through coursework and educational training such as an entrepreneurship boot camp.

“CISTAR will lead the development of the next generation of highly educated engineers,” Chiang says. “It will inspire young talents along the STEM pathways to shape our new energy future.”

Suresh Garimella, executive vice president for research and partnerships, says, “CISTAR’s goal to develop new energy technologies that will contribute to the responsible and efficient use of the nation’s immense shale resources is a transformational change in the energy sector as the nation transitions from petroleum and coal to shale gas for energy production. In addition, this technology also presents global benefits and opportunities since shale deposits are found throughout the world.”

Ribeiro says, “We have a team of extraordinarily talented researchers focused on bringing to fruition new ideas that have the potential to convert a huge but still underutilized hydrocarbon resource into a responsible and efficient pathway to a sustainable energy future. We are eager to see the development and commercialization of the ideas, the associated preparation of a diverse and well-educated workforce to enable their applications, and their impact on the energy scene. We are grateful to NSF and our university and industrial partners for making this exciting opportunity possible.”

The NSF will provide $19.75 million over five years for the center. Industrial and university partners will contribute additional funding and critical resources.