College of Engineering 1996 Annual Report: Progress By Design Chemical Engineering
Molecular simulations play an important role in Associate Professor Juan J. de Pablo's research. With advanced methods and powerful computers, he examines molecular motion and probes the microscopic structures of fluids and solids, using the results to predict the macroscopic behavior of these systems. This image shows a highly cross-linked polymeric molecule. (49K JPG) Highly cross-linked polymeric molecule

Catalysis program is environmentally friendly

In response to increasing environmental concerns in the chemical industries, a graduate research training program called Catalysis for Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing has been established. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the five-year program will focus on developing innovative processes that solve environmental problems while also satisfying chemical demands and economic criteria. For example, students in Professor James A. Dumesic's lab are working on isobutylene catalysts for reformulated gasoline with improved emissions; Professor Thatcher W. Root's group is examining alternative process pathways for producing polyurethanes, with the goal of replacing the present phosgene-requiring chemistry; and Associate Professor Ross E. Swaney and his group are concerned with a variety of problems involving process design, modeling, simulations and optimization.

New software targets chemical engineers

Professor James B. Rawlings and postdoctoral student John Eaton have developed a specialized software package that greatly simplifies common chemical engineering tasks, such as creating and manipulating matrices. Labeled Octave, this high-level programming language enables students to concentrate on chemical engineering issues rather than programming minutiae. Available free of charge over the Internet (www.che.wisc.edu/octave), the software has found its way into a wide range of physical sciences labs. However, unlike shareware, users are expected to customize it. The idea is that the software will eventually become self-sustaining as other researchers independently add features. "Now that it is passed freely from lab-to-lab and downloaded from Internet sites worldwide, the software has begun to evolve independently," says Rawlings.

Chlorine-free bleaching alternative studied

In the pulp and paper industry, chlorine-based chemicals are the primary agents used to bleach kraft pulps. But recent scrutiny and regulatory measures have led researchers to seek alternative bleaching technologies. Professor Charles G. Hill, Jr. and Adjunct Professor Rajai H. Atalla (Forest Products Laboratory) are part of a team developing a totally chlorine-free bleaching process based on the use of polyoxometalates (POMs), which are highly selective, reusable bleaching agents prepared from non-toxic mineral ores. The POM process produces only water and carbon dioxide and would permit the development of an energy saving, closed mill, effluent-free bleaching system. This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Industrial Technologies, FPL and a consortium of five industrial partners.

Computer models improve polymers

Polymer strands -- such as optical fibers -- are made by pulling a thread from a pool of polymer through a die. To improve their products, manufacturers want to produce polymer strands that have smooth surfaces. This is easy to achieve when the thread is pulled very slowly. However, speeding up the process causes distortions in the fiber's surface. Working in the Rheology Research Center, Assistant Professor Michael D. Graham is creating theoretical models that represent the interaction between the polymer and the die's metal surface. He is also experimenting with factors such as the elasticity of the polymer, the smoothness of the die and additives to the polymer, all of which can affect the process.


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1996 Annual Report Contents