New Florida Tech Research Working Towards a Sustainable Solvent

Solvents are added to oil to “clean” the liquid for maximum performance. However, oil spills and end-of-life disposal are often harmful to the environment and a liability for chemical companies in part because of the solvent’s toxic ingredients.

Newly funded research at Florida Tech may help reduce these damaging effects.

Florida Tech chemical engineering assistant professor M. Toufiq Reza in the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering and Sciences was recently awarded an American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund (ACS PRF) grant to help his efforts to develop a solvent that is more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient. The $110,000, 2-year grant is considered as one of the most prestigious grants for early career faculties from chemistry, chemical and petroleum engineering, and material sciences.

Reza, whose focus is in sustainable energy, came to Florida Tech in August 2019 after working as a researcher at Ohio University. He has been working on deep eutectic solvents (DES) for the past four years. DES often contain choline chloride, an organic compound used in animal feed and urea, a common fertilizer. Both ingredients have shown to have a less adverse effect on the environment. Preliminary studies indicated that DES are effective in removing impurities from oil refinery products while being an improved sustainable choice.

“We have identified that oil refineries are struggling to find an environmentally friendly solvent that works effectively,” Reza said. “That’s what we’re trying to bring to the chemical industries so we may be able to assist them solving the problem.”

In order to discover effective compounds for the solvents, Reza’s project is using a program called Conductor-like Screening Model (COSMO), which both extracts and simulates the physical properties of specific DES.

“Instead of doing an actual experiment, we could get a very good theoretical understanding on whether the solvent would work, which is the first phase of finding an effective solvent,” Reza said. “If it works in COSMO, then we need to do the laboratory testing, as some solvents that work theoretically may not work during experiments.”

If the research is successful over the next two years, Reza may speak with chemical companies about commercialization of the solvents he developed.


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