Since 2014, Lubrizol Corporation has maintained a singular partnership with the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh – providing funding that encourages entrepreneurship and risk-taking among faculty and students while helping Lubrizol develop new initiatives that help to transform the additive and lubrication industry. This “innovation collaboration” is now ready to begin a new chapter in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering with a three-year, nearly $1 million renewal.
According to Steven R. Little, Distinguished Professor and Department Chair, the original four-year, $1.4 million alliance with the Wickliffe, Ohio-based chemical company, leveraged advancements in manufacturing processes, more than $9 million in external funding, and support for nearly 30 graduate and postdoctoral students.
“The U.S. chemical industry is traditionally risk-averse, and innovation takes a long time to root. Lubrizol however understood that supporting research on targeted projects with a university partner could yield dividends that might not be possible in-house,” Little explained. “Beyond funding, Lubrizol has also shared its engineers as instructors and mentors, so not only are we developing new ideas and processes, but we’re also graduating the next generation of chemical engineers.”
Glenn Cormack, the Global Processes Innovation Manager for Lubrizol and current liaison for the Alliance has been involved with the relationship since the inception. He notes the benefits that the collaboration has had for both organizations.
“The Alliance between Pitt and Lubrizol has fundamentally changed how Lubrizol develops new processes. The knowledge and skill set of the faculty and students at Pitt augment our internal capabilities, diving deep into the fundamentals and allowing us to develop and commercialize more safe and reliable processes,” says Cormack. “Working collaboratively has allowed our organizations to access funds that promote rich experiences for students, challenging problems for faculty, and safe and efficient processes for Lubrizol.”
According to Götz Veser, professor and program director, the success of the collaboration’s original mission was further secured in 2017 with an $8 million award from the Department of Energy’s Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute. The DOE program is a five-year, $70 million commitment to improving energy efficiency and lowering investment requirements for American manufacturers seeking to upgrade processes. Through the RAPID funding, Lubrizol and Pitt were able to develop prototypes and later install two new, modular processing units at the Wickliffe campus that are more energy- and cost-efficient as well as safer and smaller than conventional processes.
“For the American chemical industry, “bigger has always been better”,” Veser said. “But competitors in Europe and elsewhere found that process intensification – “making more with less” - is key to innovation and growth. Lubrizol’s renewed focus on innovation, supported through the RAPID funding and their own investments, have since helped the company become nimbler and more efficient in its manufacturing processes.”
The Alliance is also working to make advancements in decarbonizing Lubrizol’s operations and the Chemical Industry. Lubrizol has recently partnered with Pitt faculty to tackle research in areas such as the intersection of electrochemistry and process intensification, as well as waste plastic depolymerization and upcycling.
Over the past two years, Lubrizol’s sustainability teams have worked closely with Associate Professor James R. McKone who notes, “The Lubrizol Alliance has afforded us a unique perspective on the opportunities and challenges of decarbonizing specialty chemical manufacturing. We have already identified several potential strategies to reduce global warming emissions by applying recent innovations in electrochemical engineering, and we are excited to continue working with Lubrizol to develop these next-generation chemical reactors.”
Furthermore, Pitt recently agreed to support Lubrizol’s ongoing work with University of Nottingham and University of Warwick in their UKRI sponsored Prosperity Partnership, with the vision of forging closer transatlantic industry-academic partnerships in support of decarbonization and sustainability. Peter Licence, PhD, lead investigator for the partnership at Nottingham notes that, “We are excited to engage with Chemical Engineers at the University of Pittsburgh to help drive the uptake of energy resilient processes that will underpin our transition towards functional molecules with minimized environmental impact.
Prosperity Partnership activities including new collaborative links with the McKone group, will explore the atom efficient deployment of thermally efficient flow reactors to drive photochemical and electrochemically mediated processes to enable and underpin electrified chemicals manufacturing at scale.”
At Pitt seven faculty from various chemical engineering backgrounds have engaged in the collaboration, supporting seven graduate students, two post docs, and 20 undergraduate students over more than a dozen research projects. Research has ranged from dispersant and lubricant production and batch reactor design to 3D printed filter membranes and computational modeling to create novel catalysts. Additionally, faculty have worked with Lubrizol employees to co-teach workshops to chemical engineers around the country at the AIChE Annual Meeting.
Frank van Lier, Senior Director of Global Process Technology for Lubrizol’s Additive business, truly appreciates the long-term collaboration and relationships that have been developed with the University of Pittsburgh. “This collaboration has enabled Lubrizol to tap into the skills and talents of the Pitt team and leverage Department of Energy funding opportunities without having to manage the intricacies of working directly with the DOE. All of this generates tremendous value in designing and deploying inherently safer, more cost effective and efficient manufacturing capabilities. Thanks to all who have continued to make this collaboration a success and ensure another three years of collaboration.”
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