TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has recently included a Science section for the interest of many of the students who read our publication and use it as a learning tool for their careers. We have thus far posed questions to astronomers, mathematicians, and physicists and would like to introduce the subject of Chemical Engineering.
We are very honored to be able to interview Dr. Liang-Shih Fan of Ohio State University. Dr. Fan has received many accolades for his work and research in the field of chemical engineering. Dr. Fan, please tell all of our student readers about your educational background.
LSF- I studied Chemical Engineering in Taiwan at National Taiwan University. Then I came to the United States to obtain my masters and doctorate at West Virginia University where I studied fluidization and flue gas cleaning from coal combustion. Then I went to Kansas State University for my post-doctoral studies and received my masters in Statistics. After that I started my academic career at Ohio State focusing on multiphase flows and fossil fuel conversion and environmental solutions. Much of my research is rooted in chemical engineering fundamentals such as understanding particle science and technology that can solve real-world energy and pollution problems.
TAEM- Please tell us about the many awards and recognitions that you have received.
LSF-I have been really fortunate to be recognized by many awards and recognitions including being elected to the National Academy of Engineering, being honored with the E. V. Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry by the American Chemical Society, and named one of the “One Hundred Engineers in the Modern Era” by American Institute of Chemical Engineering. Ohio State has also been very kind in recognizing my research by awarding me the Joseph Sullivant Medal for eminent achievements in 2005 and the Innovator of the Year Award in 2012. But the awards that I most cherish are the Ohio State awards in teaching as the Charles E. MacQuigg Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Clara M. and Peter L. Scott Faculty Award for Excellence in Engineering Education.
TAEM- Tell our readers about your current research and the industries that it is applied to.
LSF-Currently, my research focuses on chemical looping technology, tomography and computational fluid dynamics, all of which are direct applications of multiphase flows and reaction engineering. I work on research to solve energy and environmental problems. Particularly, most of my research focuses on developing and scaling-up processes to convert carbonaceous fuels to electricity, hydrogen, chemicals and fuels with pollutant removal and CO2 capture.
LSF-One of my significant research findings was in the investigation of particle clusters in circulating fluidized beds. In particular, in fast fluidizing solids flow, we observed that solids concentrate or cluster along low-velocity walls. We investigated further this transient nature of solid flow and found that these cluster formations are quite associated and analogous to turbulent bursts—vortexes that form at the wall that gradually dissipate.
TAEM- What new tool has your group designed to do this research, and is there other possibilities that it can be used for ?
LSF- In order to understand these gas-solid dynamics, my group has designed the Electrical Capacitance Volume Tomography (ECVT). Tomography is a method to quantify the multiphase flow field thereby revealing such flow phenomena as the particle clustering in gas-solid flows. We also wanted to understand how larger clusters form from the dilute (low-velocity) transport to the choking transition to the very dense phase. And by understanding them, we can better design the gas-solid flow reactors and identify their desired operating conditions.
TAEM- You also developed a Computational Code and an Electrical Capacitance Tomography for your work. How did this come about, and what applications has it been applied to ?
LSF-At the foundation of all processes, engineering science is still very critical. Computations are very important as these models allow us to apply physics fundamentals to better understand reactor performance. For example, the employment of the Lattice-Boltzmann techniques to describe phenomena of intricate bubble, drop and particle interactions can provide us detailed understanding of the effects of the flow on reactant conversions.
My tomography research started 20 years ago, when I recognized that there was a necessity to observe multiphase flows under opaque conditions. However, I did not wish to use radioactive means. First, I explored acoustic methods before arriving at the electrical capacitance method. My research group and I have developed the first 3-D ECVT to image 3-D real-time flow fields. This provides considerable information to capture and understand flow field properties. Currently, it is being used in a number of countries around the world. We are also exploring the use of ECVT in the medical field in order to avoid the risks of radiation associated with MRIs or CAT scans.
LSF-Currently, ECVT has been successful for imaging our chemical looping technology. Chemical looping technology are clean fossil fuel processes that convert fuels such as coal, natural gas and biomass to hydrogen, electricity, fuels and chemicals in an integrated reactor system while simultaneously capturing. CO2. Currently, we are in the process of scaling-up the reactor system from lab-scale bench units to near-commercial pilot plants. We are currently constructing a pilot plant at the Department of Energy’s National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama, to demonstrate the feasibility of our process. We hope to introduce this process for commercial use as chemical looping is a game changer that will lay the foundation for a more sustainable future.
TAEM- Please tell our readers about the governmental and commercial support that you have received for your work.
LSF-Our work is constantly supported by the U.S. government through the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. We are also supported by private companies through Babcock &Wilcox and CONSOL Energy. These supports are critical and essential for pursuing such cutting-edge research and for progressing to the current state of development.
TAEM-Are there any other research projects that you are considering, and what educational plans do you have for the future ?
LSF-Currently, my research group is focused on the further scale-up of our technologies and processes. We are also engaged in research on the more fundamental engineering science, which supports the scale-up development.
I am also passionately interested in developing the future generation of scientists and engineers. I want to emphasize the importance of outreach and of mentoring our future leaders. My research group mentors high school students from the community and undergraduates. Additionally, it’s important to expand in diversity and collaborations, and I deeply enjoy working with Howard University and Muskingum University. It’s really critical to develop that innate scientific thinking in undergraduates in order to prepare themselves for industry or graduate school.
TAEM- Dr. Fan, it has been a true honor to be able to present you, and your work, to our many student readers. The advancement of science is of prime importance to our publication, and we hope that you will keep in touch with us in the future so that we can inform our readership of any new developments coming from you.