Penn Engineering

The School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1852, is composed of six academic departments and numerous interdisciplinary centers, institutes, and laboratories. At Penn Engineering, we are preparing the next generation of innovative engineers, entrepreneurs and leaders. Our unique culture of cooperation and teamwork, emphasis on research, and dedicated faculty advisors who teach as well as mentor, provide the ideal environment for the intellectual growth and development of well-rounded global citizens.

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Now showing 1 - 10 of 4581
  • Publication
    Tritium Removal from CANDU Reactors
    (2024-06-18) Siefken, Ella; Lu, Jason; Ngo, Phuong
    Within the next 50 years, the global demand for tritium will increase with the startup of fusion reactors, while the global supply (currently estimated at 25 kg) slowly dwindles due to its short half-life. Heavy water moderator from CANDU reactors is the only large scale source of tritium that can meet the rising demand. Only two tritium removal facilities are in operation worldwide, while the development of a third is uncertain. Currently, at the Bruce Nuclear Generation Station in Ontario, Canada, the tritiated heavy water is stored and transported to the Darlington Tritium Removal Facility, posing logistical challenges and risks of radioactive exposure during storage and transport. We propose the implementation of a tritium removal facility at the Bruce Nuclear Generation Station to continuously extract tritium from heavy water moderator from the four Bruce C units currently in the early stages of development. The heavy water would undergo electrolysis before being cooled to cryogenic temperatures of about 26–27 K and fed through a cryogenic distillation cascade that would produce gaseous tritium of 99.9% purity at a rate of 178 grams per year. Continuous tritium extraction would also maintain the radioactivity of the CANDU reactor moderator under 10 Ci/kg, an essential benchmark for reactor and environmental safety. Compared to existing tritium removal facilities, this process presents three novel advantages: 1) Direct electrolysis pre-treatment that foregoes the use of complex catalysts; 2) A thermally linked design that utilizes helium refrigerant to provide heating and cooling duty; 3) Optimized cryogenic distillation system that provides tritium product of higher purity that other similar processes. Assuming a tritium sale price of $30,000 per gram and a plant lifetime of 35 years, the tritium removal process presented is not profitable, with an ROI of -6.13% in the third production year and a negative IRR. However, this process design is highly valuable as tritium prices are expected to surge in the next decade as fusion plants reach technological readiness and require tritium to fuel fusion reactors.
  • Publication
    Production of ATJ-SPK From Ethanol Feedstock
    (2024-06-18) Sheldon, Jacob; Stosich, Corbyn; Walker , Mitch
    In 2021, the U.S. government released the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which pledges a goal of supplying sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to meet 100% of fuel demand by 2050. SAF currently makes up less than 0.1% of the total jet fuel industry and is nearly twice as expensive as jet fuel sold from a typical refinery (FAA, 2022). There are currently nine SAF production pathways that have been approved by ASTM, one of which is known as Alcohol-to-Jet-Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (ATJ-SPK). A 2019 white paper by Gevo outlines the principles of ATJ-SPK, where starchy alcohols are converted to isobutanol, which is then converted to paraffinic kerosene through well-established processes of dehydration, oligomerization, and hydrogenation (Gevo, 2019). An ATJ-SPK plant was designed with the intention of exploring the environmental and economic viability of a pure ethanol feed. To date, most developed ATJ-SPK plants have an isobutanol feed. The designed plant follows the three established steps: dehydration, oligomerization, and hydrogenation. For ethanol dehydration, Ni-HZSM-5 catalyst was used to convert ethanol to ethylene. The oligomerization and hydrogenation steps were both accomplished using two reactors in series with two unique catalysts. This design decision was made to target reactions in the C9-C16 range, ideal for kerosene jet fuel. For the first and second oligomerization reactors, Ni-H-β and Al2O3/SiO3 catalysts were used, respectively. Feed to the hydrogenation reactors consisted of mostly C8-C17 olefins, where a Ni-C catalyst was used in the first reactor, and a 0.3% Pt/Al2O3 was used in the second reactor. Paraffins were separated by size into SAF, diesel, and gasoline. Analysis revealed the economic viability of the designed ethanol feed ATJ-SPK process is highly dependent on the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Credit created by the Inflation Reduction Act. The credit gives $1.25 per gallon of SAF sold, given that the SAF has a 50% reduction in lifetime greenhouse gas emissions. The following process reduces GHG emissions by almost exactly 50%, putting the process at risk for not receiving the SAF tax credit if an unexpected source of emissions is discovered. Furthermore, the SAF tax credit expires in 2025, so there is little long-term economic viability of the designed process. With the discontinuation of government incentives, achieving the ambitious 2050 emissions goal for the aviation industry becomes even more challenging. If the United States is committed to these targets, additional tax incentives will likely be essential. The following design can be used as a baseline for future ethanol feed ATJ-SPK processes, and may prove viable if there are additional economic incentives established for SAFs as the 2030, 2040, and 2050 goals of the aviation industry to reduce emissions become a top environmental priority.
  • Publication
    Hydrogen Production from Efficient Two-Step Water Splitting
    (2024-06-18) Bagchi, Rohan; Ghosh, Andreas; Murphy, Kara
    The demand for renewable energy sources such as hydrogen is projected to increase in the next few decades as the world turns its sights towards reducing the effects of climate change. Hydrogen has recently been considered for use in the automobile industry as a power source for fuel cell vehicles because of its high energy density by mass. The greenest form of hydrogen production is through water electrolysis. Traditional water electrolysis, however, requires a membrane, which lowers efficiency and raises costs and safety risks. In this report, we design a process for two-step splitting of water by rotating cycles of electrochemical production of hydrogen and thermochemical production of oxygen without the use of a membrane. The process produces 28,000 U.S. tons of hydrogen per year with a co-product of 222,000 U.S. tons of oxygen per year. The electricity to power the electrolysis and other process units is sourced from solar energy. With a selling price of $1.02/lb of hydrogen - based on current prices for grey hydrogen, a selling price of $0.04/lb of oxygen, and a tax credit of $1.46/lb for the production of green hydrogen, the plant would achieve a return on investment of -1.87%, an internal rate of return of 34%, and a net present value of $152 million. In the best-case scenario where oxygen can be sold at a higher price of $0.30 for medical uses, the plant becomes much more profitable with an IRR of 67% and an ROI of 44%. The process’ voltage efficiency of 91.0% and HHV efficiency of 81.3% make it competitive with the best electrolysis technologies used in industry. Overall, the process provides one pathway towards a large-scale hydrogen economy.
  • Publication
    Food Production Without Photosynthesis
    (2024-06-18) Dobkin, Gabrielle; Ellman, Sydney; Jacobs, Ciara
    While single-carbon molecules are not limited, the forms of edible carbon are. The rate at which photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide to biomass is limited by sunlight, climate, and water. With a global population of 8.1 billion and growing, it is imperative that food production remain secure despite changing and unpredictable conditions. Thus, single cell protein (SCP) production via industrial-scale fermentation proves to be an attractive avenue for producing food within a closed system using significantly less arable land and water. SCP is protein-rich biomass derived from unicellular microorganisms, such as yeast, bacteria, or algae. This report assesses the economic feasibility of producing human food grade SCP biomass using fermentation of the methanotrophic bacteria Methyloccocus Capsulatus with two different single-carbon sources as feed. This process was initially designed to produce 50,000 US tons of SCP biomass a year, it demonstrated capacity to produce upwards of 62,000 US tons/year. Therefore, this number was used in the final profitability analysis. The proposed location for the plant is Groves, Texas. The product was determined to have an ideal selling price of $7/kg. The methane-fed process was determined to be economically unfeasible after raw material costs and equipment costs were calculated. However, the methanol-fed process was determined to be viable after considering raw materials, equipment, utilities and other expenses. The methanol-fed process has an IRR of 29% and an ROI of 28%. With the fractional land requirements compared to traditional agriculture, the methanol-fed SCP production process proves to be worth pursuing based on environmental factors.
  • Publication
    Post-Combustion CO2 Capture using Desublimation Technology
    (2024-06-18) Piotrzkowski, Kathleen; Izere, Dorine; Yang, Bailey
    Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen dramatically over the past century, causing serious environmental concerns. The largest contributor to carbon emissions is the burning of fossil fuels for energy production. Much research is being conducted to develop new alternative fuels that do not release carbon dioxide, including hydrogen, solar, and geothermal. Despite these efforts, carbon-emitting fuel sources still supply about 80% of the world’s energy. To decrease carbon emissions in the current energy landscape, carbon capture is essential. Carbon capture selectively captures CO2 from the atmosphere through direct air capture (DAC) or point-source capture from flue gas streams. Existing carbon capture technologies only capture 0.4% of total emissions in the U.S., providing much demand and opportunity for the rapid development of new technologies. Carbon capture using desublimation selectively captures CO2 by decreasing the temperature inducing a phase change of CO2 from vapor to solid, producing pure carbon dioxide. This project proposes a process to capture 100,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide at 99% purity from a typical natural gas-fired power plant feed stream using desublimation technology. Our process offers a competitive design for carbon capture from diluted flue gas streams at $119 per ton of CO2.
  • Publication
    Lithium Extraction from Oil Field Brine
    (2024-06-18) Lu, Evan; Suleiman, Mohammed; Tran, Jonathan
    With a global imperative for the transition to renewable energy as part of the effort to reduce climate change, electric vehicles (EVs) have become a vital part of a switch to clean energy technologies. To enable EVs to have comparable mileage to conventional fossil fuel-powered vehicles, lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide batteries have become the standard for powering EVs due to their high energy density and storage capacity. However, with lithium being a relatively rare element that requires significant effort to mine from the earth, technologies to extract lithium from other sources are becoming increasingly attractive to companies interested in batteries and the clean energy sector. The extraction of lithium ions from wastewater oil brines has become a promising technology on larger scales due to the favorable economics associated with the construction of several pilot production plants in various oil fields. Here, we propose a lithium ion production plant capable of producing 5,000 metric tons of lithium contained within lithium sulfate annually. Oil brine will be sourced from the Smackover formation in Arkansas and East Texas, where reports have demonstrated lithium concentration in some brines exceeding 500 milligrams of lithium per liter of brine. Lithium extraction from the brine will occur using a sorbent bed capable of highly selectively binding lithium ions. The sorbent composition is obtained from a patent by E3 Lithium, a company that is currently operating a similar lithium extraction plant within Alberta’s oil sands [1]. The final product of the plant will be anhydrous lithium sulfate. The processing and purification of lithium sulfate to produce lithium carbonate is factored into the cost but is outside of the scope of this production plant. The project statement assumes the plant will be associated with an oil extraction plant and will process the brine as it is pumped up with the oil. This means that the pumping of oil brine to the surface and back into the ground is also outside of the scope of this plant; however, it is included in the CAPEX ($24 MM). Based on assumptions from project author Dr. Richard Bockrath, the plant lifetime will be 20 years, the incoming oil brine will have a lithium ion concentration of 500 mg/L, and the processing and purification price of lithium sulfate will be $20 per kilogram. Using these parameters and assuming a discount rate of 15%, this production plant is estimated to have an ROI of 199%, an IRR of 148%, and an NPV of $685,000,000. These values are revisited in the sensitivity analyses where purification costs are the dominant driving factor.
  • Publication
    Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) Production From Plastic Waste
    (2024-06-18) Mancini-Lander, Rosangelica; Patel , Richa; Thayumanavan, Seth
    Due to its extremely long decomposition time and harm to natural environments, the accumulation of plastic waste has become a critical issue that has worsened over the past decades; plastic production has increased over 200x since 1950. Despite growing awareness of the plastic pollution problem, the vast majority of plastic still ends up in landfills; furthermore, this plastic takes >500 years to degrade and the remaining microplastics can be toxic to animals and the environment alike. Fast-degrading, sustainably sourced biodegradable plastics are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to standard thermoplastics. One of the most promising biodegradable plastics is polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) – the product produced from this process – which has enhanced thermal stability compared to bioplastic alternatives such as polylactic acid (PLA). The market for PHA has grown significantly over the past few years and the market currently has a promising CAGR of 15.9%. This two step process aims to address the critical plastic pollution problem from two fronts: 1) the feed stream for this process is mixed consumer plastic waste, so this process will actively reduce the amount of thermoplastic present in the environment; 2) the product is a biodegradable plastic. This process converts 11,000 tons of mixed plastic waste (polystyrene, high density polyethylene, and polyethylene terephthalate) to 324.457 tons of PHA per annum. The process consists of two distinct steps: 1) chemical oxidation and depolymerization of plastic polymers and 2) bioconversion of organic monomers to PHA (and subsequent product isolation). Currently, this process has a Net Present Value (NPV) of -$178 million with an ROI of -22.61%. As it stands, this process is not profitable, but this is still a promising concept and the methods of production could be refined with more lab scale studies focused on cheaper catalysts and increasing PHA yield from the bioreaction.
  • Publication
    (2024-05-17) Daryl Hurwitz
    In the evolving field of neuroelectronics implants, several significant challenges persist. The rigidity of traditional devices often lead to substantial tissue damage and immune reactions, highlighting the urgent need for flexible, biomimetic designs that integrate more harmoniously with neural tissues, thereby enhancing biocompatibility and long-term stability. Most commercial neural implants are not customizable and feature a limited number of electrodes, which constrains the scope of neural data that can be captured. This limitation calls for the development of scalable technologies that can achieve higher spatial resolutions. Efficient wireless power and data transfer technologies are also essential to support fully implantable, untethered neural interfaces. Current implants generally lack the ability to incorporate multiple recording and stimulation modalities, restricting their application in diverse scientific studies. The development of multimodal interfaces could address this limitation, enabling more detailed studies of neural structure and function. This thesis explores the innovative use of MXene, specifically the two-dimensional nanomaterial TI3C2Tx, in conjunction with polydopamine (PDA) to develop customizable microelectrode arrays (MEAs) that can be rapidly fabricated for use in surgical settings. MXenes are selected for their exceptional conductivity, flexibility, and biocompatibility-qualities essential for effective neural interfaces. The addition of PDA enhances these interfaces’ mechanical and environmental stability while maintaining their excellent electrical properties. This research presents a novel method for the quick production of MEAs that can be adapted to individual surgical requirements potentially a day prior to or on the day of surgery, ultimately facilitating precise electrode placement for optimized neural recording and stimulation. By addressing the significant challenges of existing bioelectronic interfaces—such as the need for stable, safe, and functional integration with soft biological tissues—this thesis demonstrates a scalable approach to fabricate devices that combine the unique optical, electronic, and biocompatible properties of carbon-based nanomaterials. The outcomes of this work are expected to contribute significantly to the fields of neurology and bioelectronics by providing a robust platform for the advanced study of brain function across various spatial and temporal scales. This could lead to improved understanding and management of neurological conditions, thereby aligning with the broader goals of advancing neuroscientific research and clinical neurology.
  • Publication
    Origami-Inspired Bistable Gripper with Self-Sensing Capabilities
    (7th IEEE-RAS International Conference on Soft Robotics (Robosoft) 2024, 2024-04) Kim, Christopher Y; Yang, Lele; Anbuchelvan, Ashwath; Garg, Raghav; Milbar, Niv; Vitale, Flavia; Sung, Cynthia
    An origami-inspired bistable gripper, featuring a dual-function custom PET linear solenoid actuator that acts both as an actuator and a sensor, is presented. Movements in the permanent magnet plunger, which is directly mounted to the gripper, create induced electromotive force (emf) in the solenoid, and these induced emf measurements are used to detect snap-through actions and light contacts on the gripper. The fabrication methods for the gripper, actuator, and a gel-free soft wearable EMG electrode are outlined, and the actuator’s self-sensing method utilizing the time-integral of the induced emf measurements are explored. Because a self-sensing actuator eliminates the need for extra sensors, it allows for further miniaturization of the robot while maintaining its compactness and lightweight design. The paper also introduces a full humanin- the-loop system, allowing users to open or close the gripper with their biceps via a wearable EMG electrode. This system bridges human intent with robotic action, offering a more intuitive interaction model for robotic control.
  • Publication
    Online Optimization of Soft Manipulator Mechanics via Hierarchical Control
    (2024) Misra, Shivangi; Sung, Cynthia
    Actively tuning mechanical properties in soft robots is now feasible due to advancements in soft actuation technologies. In soft manipulators, these novel actuators can be distributed over the robot body to allow greater control over its large number of degrees of freedom and to stabilize local deformations against a range of disturbances. In this paper, we present a hierarchical policy for stiffness control for such a class of soft manipulators. The stiffness changes induce desired deformations in each segment, thereby influencing the manipulator’s end-effector position. The algorithm can be run as an online controller to influence the manipulator’s stable states – as we demonstrate in simulation – or offline as a design algorithm to optimize stiffness distributions – as we showcase in a hardware demonstration. Our proposed hierarchical control scheme is agnostic to the stiffness actuation method and can extend to other soft manipulators with nonuniform stiffness distributions.