Mobile Menu

Andlinger Center News

February 3, 2015

The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE) invites undergraduates to apply for paid summer internships. Funding will be provided for research projects, particularly field work and laboratory research, performed under the auspices of faculty doing research in areas related to the ACEE. If approved, current freshmen, sophomores, or juniors will receive a $4,000 stipend for eight weeks of summer research and up to $4,000 for research related expenses. Each applicant must recruit a Princeton faculty member to supervise and host the student in his/her lab. Research must begin by June 29, 2015 and last at least eight weeks. Applications may be submitted through the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE). The priority deadline for applications is February 25, 2015 and the final deadline is March 11, 2015. Summaries of projects funded in previous years can be found on our website.

Typically, a student self-initiates a project with a faculty member of his/her choice. If you are a student who is looking for an idea for a summer research project, the following faculty members have opportunities in their labs:

Professor Jose Avalos, Chemical and Biological Engineerging
Nanobodies for metabolic regulation
Recombinant VHH domains of atypical camelid single-chain antibodies, or “nanobodies” can neutralize the activity of targeted proteins inside the cell at sub-nanomolar affinities. We are developing new technologies that exploit this powerful property of nanobodies to regulate metabolic pathways post-translationally. Ethanol fermentation is essential for growth of S. cerevisiae on glucose, but it is also the main competing pathway for most yeast engineering efforts, making the production of advanced biofuels economically unviable. We have a collection of alpaca nanobodies that target a key enzyme in ethanol fermentation in yeast. We are developing strategies to use these nanobodies to inhibit ethanol production after cells have had a chance to grow, which would be a transformative technology in the field. In addition, we have various nanobody libraries from alpacas immunized with whole yeast protein extracts, which offer multiple opportunities for projects involving this exciting new technology.
Development of a semi-high-throughput screen for structural studies
Finding a good protein to crystallize is often the most expensive, and time-consuming step in protein structure determination by X-ray crystallography. The goal of this project is to develop a semi-high-throughput method to specifically tag different homologs of an enzyme with a small fluorescent tag. This will allow us to characterize each homolog biochemically without the need to purify each candidate (the expensive, laborious, and time consuming step), and determine which one is most stable, and suitable for crystallization studies. The target enzymes for this study are those involved in carbon fixation, as well as bioplastic synthesis. This technology would have a significant impact on tackling the first big bottleneck in structural studies by reducing the time it takes to find a good candidate for crystallization screens.
Mitochondrial engineering
This project involves engineering the mitochondrial physiology in the yeast S. cerevisiae, to enhance the production of fuels or chemicals artificially synthesized in this organelle. One goal of this project is to engineer pathways targeted to mitochondria in yeast containing mutations that affect fundamental aspects of mitochondrial physiology (fusion, fission, biogenesis, mitophagy). Another possible goal of this project involves the development of in vitro methods to study mitochondrial physiology, facilitate mitochondrial engineering, and develop synthetic organelles.

Professor Lynn Loo, Chemical and Biological Engineering
Charge transport in amorphous polymer semiconductors produced by flash nanoprecipitation
(Project jointly offered by Lynn Loo and Bob Prud’homme (CBE))
Charge transport in polymer semiconductors occurs through pi-orbital overlap and is thus thought to improve with increasing extents of crystallinity. The slow dynamics of polymers, however, preclude crystallization over macroscopic distances. As a consequence, the active layers of functional electronic devices often comprise polycrystalline grains, with the defects at boundaries between adjacent grains serving as bottlenecks to macroscopic charge transport. The specific aim of this project is to explore charge transport in amorphous polymer semiconductor active layers. By suppressing crystallization, we obviate the formation of grains and grain boundaries. Charge transport in these amorphous films should thus solely occur through hopping between neighboring mers, the quantification of which should allow us to evaluate the importance of crystallinity for charge transport. These amorphous films were previously inaccessible with conventional film deposition approaches given the strong tendency for these pi-conjugated polymer semiconductors to crystallize. Using flash nanoprecipitation (FNP), a process developed by researchers in the Prud’homme group, we hope to kinetically arrest the crystallization of these polymer semiconductors. Nanoparticle formation by FNP produces solid particles on time scales on the order of 15 ms. This process has been used to make amorphous drug nanoparticles from therapeutic compounds that would normally crystallize under conventional processing routes. FNP should thus enable the preparation of a state of matter previously inaccessible in these pi-conjugated materials as well.

Professor Rick Register, Chemical and Biological Engineering
Pervaporation Membranes for Purification of Biofuels
Biofuels—ethanol, and especially “next-generation” biofuels such as isobutanol and n-butanol—are produced as dilute aqueous solutions (fermentation broth). Purifying the fuel from the broth by distillation, the standard approach, can require more energy input than is obtained by burning the resulting fuel; this is especially true for biobutanol. Membrane “pervaporation” (liquid feed, vapor permeate) offers the possibility of an energy-efficient separation, if suitable membranes can be found which transport the organic preferentially over water. We have synthesized several block copolymers which appear attractive in this application; this project would characterize their pervaporation performance in greater depth.

Professor Howard Stone, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
The Stone group has a new research project inspired by hydraulic fracturing. They have designed an experimental study of the pressure-driven fracturing of an elastic solid and the subsequent flow back of liquid when the pressure is released. They are interested in studying variants of this experiment to better understand the physics and engineering of fluid-driven fracture of porous elastic materials.

Professor Robert Socolow, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Types of projects:
1. Carbon Mitigation and Carbon Dioxide Sequestration (co-supervised with Dr. Robert Williams, Dr. Thomas Kreutz, Dr. Eric Larson) A global energy system responsive to greenhouse constraints will not only introduce non-fossil fuels (nuclear power and renewable energy) but will also manage fossil fuels in new ways. They are especially interested in the conversion of fossil fuels to electricity and liquid fuels in combination with the sequestration of the fossil carbon as carbon dioxide (e.g., in deep underground aquifers). Their work is unusually closely coupled to industry and to the major environmental organizations. Student research projects have the potential for substantial impact. Projects include: a. Plant-scale modeling of electricity and fuels production from fossil fuels, in conjunction with CO2 capture, b. Nation-scale modeling of future energy systems — with reference to either the U.S., China, or India, c. Carbon dioxide storage in deep aquifers (chemical and physical processes)…to be supervised jointly with Prof. Michael Celia, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
2. Biomass-Related Energy Technologies and Systems (co-supervised with Dr. Eric Larson) A closely related research effort focuses on various aspects of the production and use of biomass (wood, other plant material, municipal solid waste, etc.) as a renewable energy source. The work includes: engineering assessments of advanced technologies for converting biomass into fluid fuels and electricity; analysis relating to land use for biomass production; and assessment of ecosystem impacts of large-scale biomass production. Possible areas for independent research projects include: a. Analysis of advanced technologies for electricity or combined heat and electricity production via thermochemical gasification of biomass, including gas turbines, fuel cells, and stirling engines. b. Analysis of advanced industrial processes for production of transportation fuels from biomass (methanol, ethanol, hydrogen, and other fluid fuels).
3. Evaluations of low-carbon technologies Separate evaluations for a general technologically literate audience are under way that discuss battery storage and the capabilities of the electric grid, geothermal electricity, small nuclear reactors, the prospects for fusion, wind farms, and solar farms. In the case of solar farms, there are now two years of data about the 5 MW Princeton campus facility that can be mined.
4. Ways to value the global future How do various disciplines think about our collective destiny? What might be added?

Professor Sankaran Sundaresan, Chemical and Biological Engineering
We are interested in studying an integrated membrane-based process that combines forward and reverse osmosis methods to recover fresh water from saline water sources (such as seawater and flow-back/produced water from shale gas/oil reservoirs). We would like to study experimentally pressure-assisted forward osmosis of water from the saline sources with glycol ethers as draw agents and extraction of water from aqueous solution of glycol ethers via reverse osmosis. Based on these, we would like to analyze the economics of this approach to freshwater recovery.
Carbon dioxide capture
There is great deal of interest on capture of carbon dioxide from flue gases in power plants. Capture of carbon dioxide using a mixture of monoethanolamine (MEA) and water as the solvent is a well-developed technology and it entails a parasitic energy cost of ~ 28%. This technology sets the bar for all new technologies aimed at cutting down the parasitic energy loss, and many solvents and solid sorbents are currently under development in various laboratories. To cut down the parasitic energy loss, one must cut down the water absorption and evaporation. In this project, we would like to study if the desired performance enhancement can be achieved by adding a suitable surfactant to the MEA-water mixture. Typically, the presence of a surfactant layer hinders the rate of mass transfer between the gas and liquid phases; in this project, we propose to study if the introduction of a surfactant has a significantly greater adverse effect on water vapor transfer than on carbon dioxide transfer.

Visiting Professor, Fabian Wagner, ACEE/WWS
Types of projects:
1. Flood risks for nuclear power plants. This project explores the vulnerability of US nuclear power plants to flooding, and how this changes under different future climate change scenarios.
2. Climate change and thermal power plant cooling. This project explores how climate change will affect the water demand and supply for cooling of thermal power plants. It will also investigate how electricity demand side management could help to mitigate the combined effects.
3. Predicting solar power output. Solar PV output does not only vary by season and time of day, but also over shorter time scales due to clouds and overcast. This project explores methods for predicting solar PV output more accurately over different time scales.
4. Energy efficiency of transportation modes and systems. Is going by bus more energy-efficient than driving a car? This project will not only assess flow rates and efficiency averages of different transportation modes and occupancy, but also the relative merits of adding or subtracting alternative options to existing urban transportation systems. Finally, this project will develop estimates of limits to energy efficiency in real-world transportation systems.
5. The quality of energy demand and oil price forecasts. Forecasts can be useful tools for stratetic planning in business and policy. This project reassesses the quality of past forecasts, projections and scenarios over different time scales.