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Purdue-Mexico Workshop on Sustainability

The following talks were presented at the Center's first workshop, held at Purdue on April 29 and 30, 2013. The focus of the workshop was Sustainability.

Full workshop brochure


Solar Economy - Is It Feasible?

Dr. Rakesh Agrawal
Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor
School of Chemical Engineering, Purdue University

An energy systems analysis, to identify opportunities and pitfalls as the renewable economy emerges, will be presented. We will focus on a future where the basic human needs of food, chemicals, heat, electricity and transportation will generally be met by solar energy. In a solar-energy-driven world, it will be particularly challenging to satisfy the need of the transportation sector due to its requirement of high energy density fuel and associated ease of handling. Some novel solutions to meet this challenge and sustain the current transportation sector will be presented. Also, electricity production from solar energy and solutions to store energy at Tera Watt-hours scale will be discussed.

Contribution of UNAM to a Sustainable and More Equitable World

Dr. Eduardo Bárzana-García
Professor and Provost
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico

The “University of Mexico” was founded in 1551 as Real y Pontificia Universidad de México; in 1910, a few weeks before the Mexican Revolution, it was re-inaugurated as National University of Mexico and in 1929 obtained its autonomy. Since then it is the largest university of the country. Its budget amounts to US$2.7 billion and has 325,000 registered students (from high school up to graduate school). All branches of scientific disciplines and humanities are cultivated. During the last decade the university has aimed to develop the disciplines associated to the environment and green processing, both in scientific and social sciences terms. For UNAM it is clear that education, health and welfare are essential for a sustainable world, specifically in the case of a multicultural nation of Mexico. Examples of lines of current programs and research more proximate to Chemical Engineering will be described briefly.

Bioenergy, Agriculture, and the Chemical Industry

Dr. Michael Ladisch
Distinguished Professor and Director, Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering (Lorre)
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Purdue University

Agriculture and the chemical industry will play a major role in the sustainable production of transportation fuels and bioenergy from renewable resources. An emerging bioenergy industry will place a premium on the design and development of manufacturing methods that increase renewable inputs, decrease non-renewable ones, and reduce costs. The growth of this industry will require agriculture to sustainably supply low carbon footprint feedstocks: grasses, crop residues, purposely grown bioenergy crops and woody biomass, and the chemical industry to provide inputs for improving agricultural productivity. If agriculture is able to provide the feedstocks, the potential exists for the emergence of a new industry based on sustainable bioprocessing of cellulosic materials into fuels and chemicals. This talk will address synergies between agriculture and engineering in the manufacture of biofuels from renewable resources and the role of faculty entrepreneurship in building a new industry. Blue ocean opportunities and business models are proposed for a low carbon footprint economy.

Environmental Biotechnology

Dr. Sergio Revah
Professor and Dean of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Division
Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Cuajimalpa Campus

Environmental biotechnology has evolved into a field where with a wide range of strategies to mitigate and correct the environmental damage caused by human activities. These include prevention, methods for detection and bioremediation and treatment. The talk will give a short overview of the technological potential and of the work done in UAM.

Optimal Synthesis and Planning of Sustainable Chemical Processes

Dr. Ignacio E. Grossmann
Dean University Professor of Chemical Engineering
Department of Chemical Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University

In this presentation we show how mathematical programming techniques can offer a general modeling framework for including environmental concerns in the synthesis and planning of chemical processes. In the area of process synthesis we address the energy and water optimization of biofuel plants. We present an optimization framework based on superstructure optimization that effectively accounts for energy and water integration, and illustrate its application to corn-based and lingocellulosic ethanol. In the area of supply chain optimization we consider the design of an integrated infrastructure for gasoline and ethanol that can deliver a variety of blends. We also describe a model for the design and planning of hydrogen supply chains for vehicle use using a multiobjective optimization approach coupled with the Eco-indicator 99 to assess the effect on human health.

Scientific Collaborations with UNAM: A Framework for Successful Engagement

Dr. Ernesto E. Marinero
Professor of Engineering Practice, School of Chemical Engineering and School of Materials Engineering
Purdue University

Scientific research in Mexico is conducted in leading academic institutions and research centers. Prominent amongst the academic institutions is the National University of Mexico (UNAM) with whom I have been associated over the last 10 years in various roles, including that of External Scientific Evaluator of an University Program on Nanotechnology (PUNTA) and as on-going PhD co-advisor of several students. In my presentation, the elements responsible for my successful engagement with UNAM will be emphasized to facilitate the creation of a framework for future successful interactions between Purdue and Mexican Institutions.

Energy for Sustainability

Dr. Ram B. Gupta
Program Director, Energy for Sustainability Program, CBET Division
National Science Foundation

Today’s world is facing two critical challenges: (1) high fuel prices, and (2) climatic changes. Both of these are linked to the overdependence on the fossil fuels: petroleum, natural gas, and coal. The transport is almost totally dependent on fossil particularly petroleum based fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, liquefied petroleum gas, and natural gas. The combination of rising oil prices, issues of security, climate instability and pollution, and deepening poverty in rural and agricultural areas, is propelling governments to enact powerful incentives for the use of renewable energy. In this talk, NSF’s Energy for Sustainability program will be presented. This program supports fundamental research and education that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production of electricity and transportation fuels. Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas emission, and utilize renewable resources. Projects include those related to biofuels, photovoltaic solar energy, wind energy, and advanced batteries for transportation. In addition, two other programs Sustainable Energy Pathway; and Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation will also be presented.

Scientific and Technological Innovation Partnerships for Clean Energy Development

Dr. Suresh V. Garimella
Goodson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Associate Vice President for Engagement
Director, NSF Cooling Technologies Research Center

Access to energy is a complex issue that extends over different scales ranging from basic, off -grid subsistence levels to bulk power for cities, factories and transportation networks. Providing electricity to the 1.5 billion people around the world currently without access is a daunting development challenge. It also poses urgent questions regarding unprecedented increases in greenhouse gas emissions. I will briefly explore the tension between the seemingly contradictory but equally critical needs of energy security and climate change mitigation, and discuss the role of clean energy technologies including challenges in the widespread use of renewables. I will present some thoughts regarding the role of universities in promoting academic-public-private partnerships to address this grand challenge.

The George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES): Reducing the Impact of Earthquakes and Tsunamis on Society

Dr. Julio A. Ramirez
Professor of Civil Engineering
Director Neescomm Center and Chief Officer of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES)
Purdue University

The George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) is a network of 14 advanced shared-use laboratories ( connected by a cyberinfrastructure that fosters collaboration in research and education ( In the 9th year of operations, over 400 multi-year, multi-investigator projects have gone through NEES, yielding many advances in earthquake engineering and a wealth of valuable experimental data. At the center of the NEES cyberinfrastructure is the NEES platform for collaboration, NEEShub, providing convenient access to tens of thousands of users from over 190 countries to the NEES central data repository (Project Warehouse). It hosts tools for data visualization, analysis, hybrid simulation, education, and collaboration. Herein brief descriptions of some of the many research, outreach, information technology, and educational accomplishments of NEES highlighting the impact of the efforts of the NEES community towards improving the resilience of our society against earthquakes and tsunamis are illustrated.

Sustainable Electronics

Dr. Carol Handwerker
Reinhardt Schuhmann Jr. Professor of Materials Engineering,
Purdue University

With the creation of consumer electronics with ever increasing impact - positive and negative- on our lives, questions of their global and local sustainability continue to emerge. Sustainability has many dimensions - societal, environmental, and industrial, known colloquially as “people, planet, prosperity.”

From mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to manufacturing in China and end-of-life metals recovery in India, electronic products serve as examples of how the impacts of products are currently externalized. This concept of externalizing impacts has been expressed well by Neva Goodwin: “Externalities are impacts generated by one economic factor, which are felt by others, but the market doesn’t bring these impacts back to affect the actor that originated them.”

Professor Handwerker will discuss what makes electronics “the canary in the coal mine” for people in the developed world and how Purdue faculty from different disciplines are developing a program to educate students to improve the sustainability of future electronics.

Nanoscale Thermoelectric Energy Conversion Devices and Interdisciplinary Sustainability Education

Dr. Ali Shakouri
Mary Jo and Robert L. Kirk Director Birck Nanotechnology Center and Professor of Electrical and
Computer Engineering
Purdue University

Energy consumption in our society is increasing rapidly. A significant fraction of the energy is lost in the form of heat. In this talk we describe thermoelectric devices that allow direct conversion of heat into electricity. Novel nanocomposites are developed where the heat and charge transport are modified at the atomic level. Potential to increase the energy conversion efficiency and bring the cost down to $0.10-0.20/W will be discussed. I also describe some of our sustainability education activities. Although awareness of sustainability problems has increased significantly in recent years, major gaps remain in society’s willingness to implement the necessary changes. We describe our efforts to increase interactions between students from engineering and social sciences as well as an international exchange program.

Energy Optimization via the Catalytic Upgrading of Side Products - The Case of Glycerol Hydrodeoxygenation

Dr. Gustavo A. Fuentes
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Department of Process Engineering,
Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana
Iztapalapa, Mexico

An alternative to improve the economics of biodiesel production is the catalytic transformation of glycerol, the stoichiometric side-product, to high value-added molecules. Catalytic production of different chemicals has hence been extensively studied in recent years, generally using a high pressure of hydrogen. We report here preliminary results on the aqueous phase hydrodeoxygenation of glycerol into acetol and 1,2-propanediol, using Cu-Pd/TiO2-X%Na as a catalyst in the absence of externally added hydrogen or in its presence at low pressures. The underlying strategy is to couple reforming and hydrodeoxygenation at the catalyst-surface level in order to improve operational safety and reduce costs. This concept decreases the need for external hydrogen production and of power derived from fossil sources.

Research and Exchange Opportunities in Mexico

Dr. Martha Silvia Leal-González
Planning, Graduate, Outreach and International Cooperation Director
Institute for Innovation and Technology Transfer of Nuevo Leon, Mexico

The state of Nuevo Leon is immersed in developing a Knowledge Economy and Society. For this purpose it has allocated programs and funds for the strategic areas in science, technology and innovation that are defined in the State Program in Science, Technology and Innovation 2012-2015. The funds are directed mainly to the establishment of new centers at the Research and Technology Innovation Park (PIIT), to promote high-tech businesses, and for master and doctorate scholarships abroad.

Synthesis of Fructans and Glucans from Sucrose by Glycosyltransferases: An Industrial Alternative

Dr. Agustín López Munguía
Associate Director and Professor, Institute of Biotechnology Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Fructansucrases are enzymes that catalyze the transfer of the fructosyl unit from sucrose to a growing fructan polymer chain. Depending on the chemical nature of the fructosyl bond, these enzymes are classified as levansucrases or inulosucrases, producing levan or inulin respectively. We first reported the unusual structure of inulosucrase (IslA) from Leuconostoc citreum with high identity to levansucrase (SacB) from Bacillus subtilis, but bearing also additional domains of glucansucrases, a group of enzymes that carry out the synthesis of glucans from sucrose. The same structural features found in IslA were later identified and characterized in other lactic bacteria strains. Both types of glycosyltransferases are an actual subject of basic and applied research. Enzymes from Streptococcus spp. are implicated in biofilm synthesis and extracellular carbohydrate storage compounds production during the pathogenesis of dental caries, while fructansucrases are involved in the synthesis of complex sugars important for human health due to their prebiotic nature. In this conference several aspects related to the structural properties, production and application of glucosyl- and fructosyl-transferases are addressed, particularly those related to potential applications in the food and pharmaceutical sectors.

Addressing Sustainable Water Supplies

Dr. Ronald Turco
Professor of Agronomy and Director, Purdue Water Community
Purdue University

Water is an essential resource for economic development, food security, industrial growth, and human well-being. The availability of a clean, plentiful, safe, and secure water source has been and will always be the most important concern for the humans. Many areas of the globe are confronted by major water shortage and water quality concerns and starting to assess supply. Purdue University is a recognized leader in the science and research of water resources, environmental and natural resources, agriculture, and education. Over the last few years we have brought together experts in social sciences, economics, hydrology, chemistry and microbiology as a watershed research group. The long-term goal of the effort is to use the Wabash River Watershed (WRW) as research platform and in doing so help re-establish the Wabash River as a healthy water body. In our work we look at the entire Wabash River watershed (85,500 km2 ) with 661 km (411 mi) of free running river and also intensively study a smaller subarea we have titled “the Region of the Great Bend of the Wabash” (GBW.) The GBW covers 1,238 km2 (478 mi2) and includes nearly 3057 km (1,900 mi) of streams, drains, and tiles. This area includes the Lafayette, West Lafayette, and Battle Ground. In the WRW study we have developed an analysis methodology and demonstrate the significance of using holistic water resource analysis in determining issues related to water supply and reuse. In the GBW study we have established an instrumented field network that is allowing us determine the status of the water entering the river, if adjacent land use is altering water quality and to what degree can we actually measure the change. Both projects will be discussed in this presentation. Project contributors: S. Peel, M. Haas, J. Wiener, L. Nies, C. Jafvert L. Prokopy, L. Bowling and J. Frankenberger.

The Purdue Global Sustainability Institute – Approaches to Catalyzing Trans-Disciplinary and Binational Initiatives in Sustainability

Dr. Jon Harbor
Professor and Head, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Director, Global Sustainability Institute
Purdue University

We are united in the goal of advancing research and education that will support the sustainability goals of our communities, states and nations. For our initiatives in energy, environment and sustainability to succeed requires collaborations that cross traditional boundaries between disciplines, universities, and nations. In this presentation I will briefly summarize the themes pursued in the centers that make up the Global Sustainability Institute, and highlight lessons learned from our efforts to catalyze trans-disciplinary and binational research and education in sustainability. This may help inform development of strategies for the organization and growth of the Purdue-Mexico Center for Sustainability.

Sustainability of the Petrochemical, Refining, and Exploration and Production Industries in Mexico

Mr. Abraham Klip
Director of Operations
Industrias BRE, Mexico

Mexico must approve a legislative reform to its energy sector. First, a fiscal reform is needed. PEMEX must operate as most of the leading petroleum and petrochemical companies in the world do. Its directors should be able to manage PEMEX with full autonomy, independent from the Secretary of Finance. PEMEX should also merge its petrochemical, natural gas and refining operations into a single company and gain with the synergies that today are wasted. Petrochemical refineries could then be built. There is an opportunity for the private sector to complement PEMEX in its refining operations. Small refineries could be profitable and diminish logistic costs.

The Future of Biofuels – Uncertainty Reigns

Dr. Wallace E. Tyner
James and Lois Ackerman Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics
Purdue University

There are many positive and negative drivers in the biofuels arena today. This presentation will cover the major factors at play which will determine the future of biofuels.

Breakout Session Summaries