Public Release: 

US DoE awards $4 million in funding to Stevens' Center for MicroChemical Systems

Stevens Institute of Technology

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- The US Department of Energy (DoE)-Office of Industrial Technologies has awarded a total of $4 million in research grants over the next five years to the New Jersey Center for MicroChemical Systems (NJCMCS) at Stevens Institute of Technology. The funds will be used to demonstrate two novel process-intensification concepts for producing critical chemicals in a cleaner, safer, more cost-effective and energy-efficient manner.

"A unique feature of the Stevens approach is the incorporation of highly engineered catalytic reactor wall via nanostructured thin-film," says Prof. Adeniyi Lawal of the Stevens Department of Chemical, Biomedical and Materials Engineering (CBME), the principal investigator for both projects.

The first project ($1.6 million), the execution of which began in September 2002, involves the design and demonstration of a microchannel reactor system for on-site production of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) by controlled reaction between H2 and O2. H2O2 is commercially manufactured at 70wt% concentration; however, most commercial applications use 15wt% concentration. End users have increasingly become interested in the concept of onsite, on-demand H2O2 generation to reduce transportation, storage, and dilution costs.

However, combining H2 and O2 in conventional reactor systems is not feasible at H2 concentrations above 5vol%, as the mixture becomes flammable and even explosive. At low H2 concentrations, very high pressures are required, rendering the process energy inefficient. One approach is onsite direct combination with low-pressure operating conditions, which uses a microchannel reactor.

These reactors possess extremely high surface-to-volume ratios and exhibit enhanced heat and mass transfer rates which enable rapid wall quenching of free radicals that in conventional-size reactors lead to thermal runaway conditions and concomitant explosion. The microchannel reactor thus allows for H2 concentrations above 5vol% without the risk of explosion.

The second grant ($2.4 million), awarded in August 2003, is to design and develop microchannel reactors for catalytic hydrogenation reactions of relevance to the pharmaceutical industry. Hydrogenation reactions account for ten to 20 percent of all reactions in the pharmaceutical industry, and are inherently highly exothermic. Ineffective heat removal can result in thermal explosion. The need to handle large volumes of H2 in slurry semi-batch reactors also creates the potential for violent detonation leading to industrial explosion. To mitigate these safety concerns, strict measures are taken in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, which include thick-walled metal doors and concrete barriers around production facilities to contain explosions that may arise.

However, with the high heat transfer characteristics of microchannel reactors, low processing flow rate, better energy management, and superior temperature control, enhanced safety is envisioned for workers, plants, and local communities. The concept of an on-demand, just-in-time production process made possible by reactor miniaturization is therefore a very attractive option for the pharmaceutical industry.

The projects present a number of fundamental technical challenges, particularly in the area of rational design and engineering of multiphase catalytic microchannel reactors. A multitude of interrelated variables are involved; thus, the design of the microchannel reactor demands that a balance be struck among competing requirements. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations provide an effective means of achieving this goal, which would be prohibitively expensive to contemplate if we were to rely solely on experiments. In support of the projects, Lawal has established a state-of-the-art "Modeling & Simulations Lab," equipped with a cluster of high-speed servers and desktop workstations in conjunction with robust commercial and in-house CFD software packages.

Apart from the relevance of these projects to the DoE mission, what makes Stevens competitive for these grants is the formidable, interdisciplinary and multi-institutional project team assembled for the projects. The lead industrial partners in the two projects FMC, and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) are technological leaders in their respective business areas. FMC is a $2B focused chemical company, and is one of the world's largest producers of H2O2, accounting for more than 12% of the world market. The H2O2 project team is also strengthened by 4 other industrial participants, ERM, GCI, Alliance Technologies and PAEI, all of them with previous collaborative engagements with FMC. ERM and GCI use significant amounts of H2O2 as an oxidant for environmental remediation of ground water and soil, while PAEI is a supplier of customized H2 plants.

These companies provide their end user and supplier perspectives as a working mechanism to facilitate technology demonstration. As a demonstration of the importance of the project to FMC, two technologists spend a significant part of their time working in Stevens' laboratories in collaboration with Stevens' professors, staff and graduate students. Dr. Emmanuel Dada spends two days a week at Stevens, while Dr. Dalbir Sethi routinely visits Stevens to provide technical guidance. Other FMC personnel that have been involved to various degrees in the project include Henry Pfeffer, Mr. Alvin Waller, and Dr. Srini Keshava. Dr. Jim Manganaro, a retired chemical engineer, is a consultant to the project. This interaction has provided an intellectually exciting and academically nurturing environment for our students and postdoctoral researchers, says Professor Lawal.

BMS, an $18 billion pharmaceutical company, is one of the world's most productive, respected, and innovative research organizations, dedicated to discovering and developing innovative, cost-effective medicines that address significant unmet medical needs that extend and enhance human life. Over the past two years, BMS has sharply increased its R&D effort in the research and development of microchannel reactor-based pharmaceutical processes. BMS's long-term technical guidance and commitment, as a corporate end user, will be critical to the success of the second project. Dr. San Kiang, Director, Process R&D Department, and Donald Kientzler, Research Manager, representing BMS, have a combined experience of more than 50 years in R&D in the pharmaceutical industry.

The other industrial participants in this project include: the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium (NJNC), a spin-off research organization from Lucent Bell Labs with the latest advances and world-class equipment facilities in MEMS fabrication; ChemProcess Technologies, LLC, a consulting company with extensive experience in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries; and Information By Design, a company with significant experience in complex information and project management in the pharmaceutical industry. Mr. Frank Shinneman, a local entrepreneur with an interest in establishing a new business entity to commercialize products anticipated from the projects, will undertake an analysis of potential markets for microchannel reactors. Other partnership possibilities emerging as an outgrowth of these projects include relationships with catalyst manufacturers, since development of a highly selective thin-film catalyst will be critical to microchannel reactor technology.

The faculty team at Stevens comprises researchers of diverse research backgrounds and impressive research accomplishments. The PI, Prof. Adeniyi Lawal (CBME) is assisted by two Co-PIs, Professor Woo Young Lee (CBME) and Professor Ron Besser (CBME). The other members of the team are Professor Suphan Koven (CBME), Prof. Bob Blanks (CBME), and Prof. Ed Whittaker (Physics). "The projects are also aided significantly by one of our most important resources, our graduate students and postdoctoral researchers," Lawal said. "This ideal university-industry-government collaboration with a coherent focus on commercialization embodies Stevens' vision of "Technogenesis®," i.e., the creation of a partnership to move ideas from concept to marketplace commercialization."

The objectives of the projects are also in accordance with the mission of the DoE-OIT, i.e., to develop and deliver advanced technologies that increase energy efficiency, improve environmental performance, and boost productivity.

"Only by assembling such a university-industry-government partnership," said Professor Lee, director of the NJCMCS, "can we succeed in achieving these mutually beneficial goals, since no one group can succeed alone in bringing new technologies or products to the marketplace."


Established in 1870, Stevens offers baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees in engineering, science, computer science, management and technology management, as well as a baccalaureate in the humanities and liberal arts, and in business and technology. The university, located directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan, has a total enrollment of about 1,740 undergraduates and 2,600 graduate students. Additional information may be obtained from its web page at

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