Evaluating the potential life cycle impacts of emerging technologies is critical for policy makers, manufactures and researchers, because it provides useful references on future technology investment and promotion, and offers valuable information on improvement opportunities and R&D directions. However, it is difficult to conduct such an assessment for new technologies, especially those in early stages, due to lack of process data and flexible frameworks capturing technology changes at different scales.
The focus of my research is to construct a modeling framework evaluating the energy, emissions and economic implications of emerging technologies at both product and economy-wide scales. At product level, this model is able to quantify the net changes of adopting novel technologies through life cycle assessment and chemical process modeling. Regarding innovative technologies that share little similarity of current chemical production process and requires new process design, the model has a conceptual process design module and short-cut models for quickly estimating the energy and emissions of typical unit operations. At economy-wide scale, the model can assess the industrial energy and emission footprint of chemical production in future decades under different economic scenarios. Ethylene production and several technologies related to steam cracker and gas separation are selected as case studies for demonstration. The results of the modeling can shed light on the key drivers of energy and emissions footprint for the petrochemical industry, and highlight promising technology opportunities that can contribute to desirable energy saving and emission mitigations.
Energy and sustainability in the chemical industry will remain the focus of my future research. I will apply and expand my expertise in life cycle assessment and chemical process modeling to enable more robust engineering and policy decisions today to contribute to greatest sustainability benefits tomorrow. In addition to research, as a prospective professor, I would like to incorporate design-to-environment into the undergraduate/graduate curriculum of chemical engineering, and teach students with hands-on experience of chemical process design with consideration of sustainability.
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