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Statler College faculty awarded $3.9 million in funding to support the creation of research centers in West Virginia

STaR recipients Madelyn Ball, Oishi Sanyal and Yuhe Tian receiving a large check.

Pictured left to right: Dr. Roozbeh (Ross) Salary of Marshall University, Dr. Madelyn Ball of West Virginia University, Dr. Oishi Sanyal of West Virginia University, Dr. Tesfaye Belay of Bluefield State University, Dr. Rosalynn Quiñones-Fernández of Marshall University, Dr. Juliana Serafin of STaR Division, Dr. Yuhe Tian of West Virginia University, and Dr. Rodney Tigaa of Concord University. (Photo/West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission)

The Science, Technology & Research division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission awarded three research challenge grants worth approximately $1.3 million each to support research conducted by students and faculty at West Virginia High education institutions. All three research teams selected for the grants totaling more than $3.9 million will be led by faculty from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University.

Story by Brittany Furbee, Communications Specialist
Photos by Paige Nesbit, Director of Marketing


“Having faculty from the Statler College at the helm of all three projects that received research challenge grants is a testament to the outstanding research and innovation coming from the College,” said  Pedro Mago, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College. “With our faculty serving as leaders, this funding will allow our experts to collaborate through cross disciplines, with peer institutions and conduct groundbreaking research that will impact West Virginia and beyond.” 

The research challenge grants promote statewide research collaboration among higher education institutions. In addition to being led by Statler College researchers, the selected research teams are comprised of faculty from Bluefield State University, Concord University, Marshall University and West Virginia State University. The grants will support each team's research project for a period of five years.  

The research team led by Xin Li, professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, was selected for the award based on their project titled “Data Driven Autonomous Experiments for Energy Sciences Principles of Machine Learning.” 

Li and team members V’yacheslav Akkerman, Lian LiWenyuan Li, Bin Liu and Aldo Romero of WVU and Xiaojuan Fan and Huong Nguyen of Marshall University, will focus on studying machine learning-based surrogate models for accelerating energy research such as material discovery, fuel cell design, and fluid simulation. They plan to work on expanding convergence research at the intersection of artificial intelligence, machine learning and energy sciences by developing a class of novel physics-informed surrogate models. 

“An example of our work is the optimization of fuel cell technology, which is closely related to renewable energy used in electric vehicles such as Tesla,” said Li. “Our research is well aligned with the optimization of fuel cell performance which can make electric vehicles economically more competitive.”  

Another area of their research will relate to the optimization of computational fluid dynamics simulation, which is similar to weather forecasting. According to Li, machine learning based weather forecasting has already shown great potential for outperforming conventional numerical weather forecasting models.   

“The outcomes of this grant funded project include new material that can support quantum computing, a new fuel cell design that can support renewable energy systems and a new simulation algorithm that supports aerospace engineering and the battery industry,” said Li. “The Department of Energy research labs and the energy industry will benefit from our research on machine learning based surrogate models.”  

Oishi Sanyal, assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, will be spearheading the research team that will study “Metal-Embedded Carbon-based Catalytic Membranes for Co-production of Ammonia and Ethylene.”  

“The focus of this research is to combine fundamental experimental and computational approaches to develop catalytic membrane materials for the co-production of ammonia and ethylene from natural gas,” explained Sanyal. “Methane coupling and ammonia synthesis are both highly energy intensive processes; therefore, microwave irradiation will be used in this work instead of traditional thermal routes to reduce the energy expenditure.” 

Joining Sanyal on this project are Madelyn Ball, John Hu, Yuhe Tian, and Carrie White of WVU, Rosalynn Quiñones-Fernández and Roozbeh Salary of Marshall University, Tesfaye Belay of Bluefield State University and Rodney Tigaa of Concord University.  

According to Sanyal, ethylene and ammonia are both widely used as raw materials for plastic production and fertilizers. The current methods of producing these chemicals are energy-intensive and therefore have a high CO2 footprint. The team's work will provide a pathway to utilize the abundant natural gas resources in the United States and West Virginia to co-produce these chemicals using lower energy technologies with reduced CO2 emission. 

Cosmin Dumitrescu, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will serve at the project principal investigator of the third research group that will study “Synergistic Conversion of Captured C02 and Green H2 to Value-Added Products for a Decarbonized Economy.” The grant will provide funding for the group to advance science and engineering around the production of value-added products for a decarbonized and low-carbon West Virginia economy.   

Dumitrescu, along with Akkerman, Omid Askari, Hu, Bingyun Li, Earl Scime and Xueyan Song of WVU, Rodney Tigaa of Concord University and Eyas Mahmoud of West Virginia State University, plan to advance current science and technologies to promote local utilization of captured carbon dioxide and the production of green hydrogen in West Virginia residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. 

“The project will promote the local, up-the-value chain, downstream utilization of captured carbon dioxide, coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants and the production of green hydrogen, thus promoting economic development within the state,” explained Dumitrescu.  

The team will work to develop process-intensified modular technologies that will convert captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen to green ethylene and green ammonia. The production of green ethylene can potentially revive West Virginia’s polymer industry, while green ammonia is an efficient, decarbonized and low emissions alternative to electrification for hard-to-electrify industries. 

“Maximizing potential benefits for WV chemical and energy companies requires skilled engineers and operators, appropriate facilities, equipment and partners who would help with technology transfer and economic development,” said Dumitrescu. “With the help of the research challenge grant funding, the project will create an interdisciplinary STEM team dedicated to supporting underrepresented communities and the necessary infrastructure to grow this project’s activities into a vibrant, self-sustaining research and development nucleus for the conversion of carbon dioxide and green hydrogen to value-added products. The project will put WVU in a competitive position in the fields of chemical reaction engineering and advanced combustion science, enabling the university to build a strong multidisciplinary research team and state-of-the-art facilities.”  

The awards, which are supported by the Research Challenge Fund that was established by the West Virginia Legislature in 2004 to build research capacity and competitiveness at the state’s colleges and universities, were announced on Friday, February 10 at the Culture Center on the West Virginia State Capitol complex. 



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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Phone: 304-293-4135