Doctoral student aims to separate oxygen from air
With a passion for solving interesting and challenging problems, Ph.D. student Esin Schulz chose a STEM path in materials science and engineering. As a participant in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) Program, she was able to do just that.
Under the guidance of Evan Granite and Elliot Roth, in the Functional Materials Development Division at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Schulz was tasked with developing a new re-generable chemical sorbent to selectively remove oxygen from the air.
Oxygen has numerous applications, including oxy-combustion and gasification of coal (which are of direct interest to the DOE), as well as high demand in many areas of industry, such as production of steel and glass, chemical processing, welding and medicine. While methods to remove oxygen from air already exist, they are expensive.
“Oxygen is in high demand in many areas in industry, because it has numerous applications. Currently, the only viable method to produce pure oxygen is cryogenic air separation. This technology is very costly and capital-intensive,” Schulz said. “My main research goal was to develop an alternative air separation process using materials that selectively isolate only the oxygen.”
Nonstoichiometric oxides show promise because they have a high selectivity for oxygen over nitrogen and high oxygen adsorption rates. Schulz synthesized a metal oxide using a solid state reaction method and characterized the oxide by its storage and release abilities. Next, she used doping techniques to increase the oxygen uptake and release properties and oxygen capacity. In order to compare her results, she completed similar processes with other materials.
“I applied to the MLEF Program because I knew it would provide me hands-on experience in the innovative research being conducted in prestigious U.S. laboratories,” Schulz said. “The program was a unique opportunity for me to dive into areas where I could utilize my skills while furthering my technical knowledge.”
Upon completion of her doctoral degree at the University of Central Florida, Schulz hopes to have a career as an engineer, continue to do research and expand her knowledge of materials science and engineering. Reflecting on her experience, Schulz said, “I see the MLEF program as a stepping stone for employment following my graduation. My experience at NETL will be a great reference for the future.”
The MLEF Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.