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Engineer Honored with Early Career Investigator Award

Fengqi You will investigate advanced “drop-in” hydrocarbon biofuels

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June 10, 2013 | by Megan Fellman

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Fengqi You

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Fengqi You, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, has received the 2013 Northwestern-Argonne Early Career Investigator Award for Energy Research.

The award honors a scientist or engineer working collaboratively between Northwestern and Argonne National Laboratory on research relating to energy production or use.

You was selected for his proposal to investigate the design and optimization of processes and supply chains for advanced “drop-in” hydrocarbon biofuels. He will receive $100,000 over three years.

You’s counterpart at Argonne will be Seth Snyder, biofuels technology manager and section leader in the energy systems division. The research supported by the award will build on You and Snyder’s earlier collaboration on cellulosic ethanol supply chains.

“This is a terrific example of a project leveraging research strengths at Northwestern and Argonne,” said David Dunand, the James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor of Materials Science, co-director of the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University (ISEN) and chair of the award selection committee.

“You and Snyder are at the cutting edge of research in biofuel supply chains, an area with great potential for large-scale impact to rapidly reduce our oil consumption with direct impact on climate change, geopolitics, agriculture and economics,” he said.

You’s proposal addresses the urgent need to reduce dependence on imported oil and to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Liquid hydrocarbons biofuels, such as gasoline and diesel and jet fuels, which are produced from cellulosic and algal biomass, can be transported and dispensed through existing pipeline and fueling infrastructure, for use in the current and legacy vehicular fleet.

You and Snyder’s research activities are expected to culminate in a novel life-cycle optimization framework for environmental and socioeconomic sustainability of advanced biofuels and new approaches for quantifying uncertainties in biofuel process systems.

“If successful, this research has the potential of accelerating the transition toward large-scale production and use of advanced biofuels while significantly improving their economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and social benefits,” You said.

You and Snyder’s findings could contribute to ending national dependence on fossil fuels, increasing energy security and meeting sustainability targets established by the U.S. Department of Energy. Their objectives are focused on developing broad sustainability measures that consider economic, environmental and social viability.

“This award recognizes that collaborative relationships make for better science and engineering,” Snyder said. “You brings innovative approaches to understanding supply chains. This collaborative research could provide invaluable insight into creating drop-in biofuels that reduce dependence on petroleum and limit greenhouse gas emissions.

You’s work has been widely published in journals on chemical engineering, energy systems and sustainability. He has received a number of prestigious honors, including the W. David Smith Jr. Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and an Argonne Director’s Fellowship.

Funding for the Northwestern-Argonne Early Career Investigator Award for Energy Research is provided jointly by Argonne and ISEN. Past recipients are Lynn Trahey (Argonne, 2012), Emily Weiss (Northwestern, 2011) and Adilson Motter (Northwestern, 2010).