UD to lead major node of new national chemical manufacturing institute

The University of Delaware has been tapped to lead a major node in the new Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute led by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

The U.S. Department of Energy announced RAPID as the newest and tenth member of the national network of Manufacturing USA Institutes on Dec. 9 at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness’ 2016 National Competitiveness Forum in Washington, D.C.

RAPID’s role will be to develop breakthrough technologies and processes that will boost energy productivity and efficiency and decrease environmental impacts, especially related to chemical manufacturing. To tackle this work, RAPID already has enlisted 130 partners from companies, academic institutions including the University of Delaware, national and government laboratories and non-governmental organizations across the U.S.

Headed by Chief Executive Officer Karen Fletcher, UD alumna and former chief engineer and vice president of engineering, facilities and real estate at DuPont, RAPID will leverage $70 million in federal funding from the Energy Department over five years and an additional $70 million in private cost-share commitments from partners.

In making the announcement, David Friedman, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, called the Energy Department’s investment in such cross-cutting work an investment in the future of manufacturing in the U.S.

“As we expand the Manufacturing USA network, we provide greater opportunities for businesses of all sizes to solve their toughest technology challenges and unleash major savings in energy-intensive sectors like oil and gas, pulp and paper-making and other industries,” Friedman said.

UD leadership in catalysis

The University of Delaware will lead a major node of RAPID focusing on catalysis and reactors, and also will be involved in other dimensions of RAPID’s research and development agenda led by other universities, according to Dion Vlachos, UD’s Allan and Myra Ferguson Chair of Chemical Engineering. Vlachos will guide the University’s effort.

“Our goal is to work in partnership with industry to make better, smaller, more energy efficient, lower cost chemical manufacturing processes and technologies,” Vlachos said. “Our work will have application in such areas as clean water, the paper industry, and the conversion of wood waste and other biomass into fuels and other useful chemicals.”

The University of Delaware has a legacy of pioneering research on catalysts — the chemical superchargers that speed up chemical reactions — from the legendary work of the late Richard Heck, 2010 Nobel Laureate, whose work revolutionized pharmaceutical manufacturing, DNA sequencing and other fields, to current developments at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, the DOE Energy Frontier Research Center that Vlachos directs, involving universities, national labs and industry.

While experts in catalysis from across UD will be involved, collaboration with industries locally and across the nation will be key.

“How will we develop new modular, small-scale devices for work in the middle of the ocean or in the middle of the woods?” Vlachos said. “This is some of the exciting work that lies ahead of us.”

‘Exceptional accomplishment’ and ‘big win’

“This is an exceptional accomplishment for the University of Delaware and for our state,” said University President Dennis Assanis. “We thank Dion Vlachos and his team members for their leadership and ingenuity, which builds on UD’s legacy of more than 100 years of excellence in chemical engineering. Working with our tremendous faculty, staff and students and our distinguished partners in academia, industry and the national labs, UD is poised to develop this new pipeline for 21st-century manufacturing and drive the innovation of the future, together.”

Charlie Riordan, vice president for research, scholarship and innovation at UD, said, “This is a big win for Delaware. UD’s longstanding excellence in chemical catalysis and Dr. Vlachos’ leadership were instrumental in bringing this new collaboration to life, which will have significant benefits to U.S. manufacturing, as well as to our University of Delaware students and faculty as they help develop the technologies of the future.”

“In conjunction with other advanced manufacturing activities already established on campus, this exciting announcement establishes UD beyond any further doubt, as one of the main hubs for 21st-century manufacturing innovation, workforce development and industrial collaborations,” said Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of the UD College of Engineering. “This opens up a whole new field for UD to make contributions to activities that are poised to shape technological innovations in the next several decades.”

Delaware gubernatorial and congressional congratulations

Delaware’s governor and congressional delegation provided staunch support for the University’s proposal and sent their congratulations:

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons: “This announcement from the Department of Energy makes official what I’ve long known: The University of Delaware is a true hub of manufacturing innovation. The success of programs like Manufacturing USA, which evolved from a private sector-led advisory group, demonstrates the combined power of savvy private sector innovation, high-quality scientific research, and smart federal investments. From our talented workforce to the quality of our universities, by so many measures Delaware is already a key contributor to the innovation pipeline. That central role, and the high-wage, high-quality jobs that manufacturing provides many Delawareans, is why I’ve fought so hard for manufacturing in the Senate. With the additional funding and the support of this latest Manufacturing USA designation, our state will be able to accomplish even more. I congratulate UD on this well-deserved designation, and I look forward to continuing to join forces with our congressional delegation, UD, state and local officials, and private sector leaders to solidify Delaware’s central role in twenty-first century manufacturing.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper: “I applaud the University of Delaware for receiving the Manufacturing USA grant award. UD has a reputation for supporting public-private partnerships that foster innovation, and with this grant award, the university can be a major part of a national effort to accelerate research and education in manufacturing.”

U.S. Rep. John Carney: “Bringing manufacturing jobs back to America and developing a well-trained workforce are crucial to our economy. The University of Delaware has become a central part of that effort in our state — that they’re being recognized nationally for their ingenuity comes as no surprise. I’m excited to see what they will accomplish given the resources this grant will provide.”

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell: “This announcement is a win not just for the University of Delaware but for the entire state. With the hub of a new national manufacturing innovation network being built right here in Delaware, we are poised to be leaders in new and exciting developments in the field. The University of Delaware, with its talented faculty, has proven to be a world class institution capable of succeeding in this task, and I’m excited to see the impact of this grant on the state, as well as on addressing national energy issues.”

Additional information about the RAPID Manufacturing Institute and its objectives is available online.

Catalysis/ReactionsRapid Breakthroughs