Casey O’Brien receives NSF CAREER Award for chemical technology to reduce greenhouse gases

Casey O’Brien, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Notre Dame, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award. CAREER awards are among the highest honors awarded to young faculty.

O’Brien’s CAREER research project focuses on developing an innovative type of catalytic membrane for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) and converting it into useful products. CO2 accounts for about two-thirds of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Removing excess CO2 will be key in mitigating the effects of global warming. 

Finding cost-effective, efficient ways to capture and convert CO2 is a significant challenge. Current efforts use extreme heat and require the captured CO2 to be compressed, transported and stored.

O’Brien proposes a catalytic membrane that integrates the capture and conversion of CO2 into a single process that does not require high temperatures or pressure. Storage is also not required, as CO2 converts into “greener” compounds as it passes through the membrane.

Using a state-of-the-art analytical methodology known as operando spectroscopy, O’Brien and his research group will measure changes in the membrane’s molecular structure while monitoring the rate at which CO2 crosses the membrane—essential information for determining the membrane’s effectiveness. 

For the educational component of his CAREER project, O’Brien and his team will work with middle-school science teachers to develop modules on climate change for students. The modules will focus on how consumption of finite natural resources and human activities affect the environment.

— Karla Cruise, Notre Dame College of Engineering