Xiao wins prestigious NSF grant to convert shale gas into clean energy

Jun 3, 2024 | Engineering and Science, Faculty/Staff, Research

In a significant boost for sustainable energy research, Dr. Yang Xiao, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Louisiana Tech University, has been awarded a two-year, nearly $200,000 U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

The NSF awarded Xiao the Engineering Research Initiation (ERI) grant for his project on converting methane into carbon-free hydrogen and ethane. ERI awards, highly selective grants from the NSF Directorate for Engineering to build research capacity nationally, are issued to support new academic researchers as they initiate research programs and advance in their careers as educators and innovators.

Xiao and his team at the Xiao Research Group Lab will establish a new experimental setup to enhance the infrastructure for research and education at Louisiana Tech and the Institute for Micromanufacturing. Along with Xiao, one doctoral student and one undergraduate student will conduct the experiments.

The project leverages MXenes, a cutting-edge class of nanomaterials, distinguished by their unique ability to accelerate chemical reactions at high temperatures. These advanced materials are crucial for efficiently converting methane—a major component of natural gas—into cleaner substances like ethane and hydrogen. Unlike traditional catalysts, MXenes offer exceptional stability and effectiveness in breaking down methane molecules without producing harmful byproducts. This conversion process not only yields ethane and hydrogen but does so in a way that significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions compared to conventional methods.

Hydrogen, produced cleanly, offers a promising pathway for energy production with water vapor as its only emission, while ethane serves as a vital building block for creating ethylene, essential in manufacturing polyethylene plastics widely used in various industries.

This research will use advanced instruments to design novel catalysts, significantly impacting Northern Louisiana—home to the large deposit of natural gas in the Haynesville Shale—by developing skilled workers and spurring innovation in the chemical and petroleum industries.

“Our research group greatly appreciates the support from the NSF – CBET Division – Catalysis Program,” Xiao said. “This ERI project enables us to continue the fundamental research on the carbon/hydrogen bond cleavage in methane molecules and develop more collaboration opportunities with Louisiana gas and oil companies.”

“Dr. Xiao has been relentlessly pushing the envelope of this promising new technology since he arrived at Tech,” said Dr. Collin Wick, dean of the College of Engineering and Science. “He is truly at the forefront of chemical technology, and our students are working alongside him to innovate how we approach fuel and energy challenges. I am thankful that the NSF saw this value and awarded the grant to him.”

“Dr. Xiao’s research epitomizes the innovative and high-impact scientific inquiry that Louisiana Tech is dedicated to advancing,” Louisiana Tech Executive Vice President for Research and Chief Research Officer Dr. Sumeet Dua added. “This NSF grant not only acknowledges his pioneering methodologies in clean energy conversion but also highlights the crucial role our institution plays in tackling global energy challenges through advanced engineering solutions. We are proud to support Dr. Xiao and his team as they progress this transformative technology, leveraging state-of-the-art nanomaterials and catalytic processes to achieve significant advancements in methane conversion and carbon emissions reduction.”

Tobias Misicko, a third-year doctoral student and student leader of the Xiao Research Group, says that his work with Xiao has prepared him to apply the correct research methods for a variety of engineering challenges.

“Working in the laboratory with Dr. Xiao has taught me many important skills and techniques for research,” he said. “I am looking forward to further applying my laboratory catalysis and reaction engineering skills in this ERI project to understand shale gas conversion in chemical reactors and conduct new experiments.”

Xiao’s innovative research promises a cleaner future, transforming shale gas into a powerful ally in the quest for sustainable energy and boosting the Louisiana economy.

Learn more about this exciting research and explore Xiao’s other groundbreaking efforts in sustainable energy by visiting the Xiao Research Group website.