By Staci Van Norman
Energy is a constant topic of debates locally, nationally and internationally. The discussion about where and how we should obtain energy to maintain our way of life is an important issue. Clean, domestic, accessible, sustainable and economical; new and existing energy systems are being vetted every day based on these criteria. I am just one of the many people working toward a balanced new solution to our energy needs.
My name is Staci Van Norman. I am a Chemical Engineer from Southern Oregon and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians and an AIGC fellow. Currently, I am in my fourth year of the Chemical Engineering PhD program at University of Colorado Boulder and committed to the research area of renewable and sustainable energy. The significance of my PhD research, for an immediate and significant impact on sustainable energy, was recently recognized by the Department of Energy through the Advanced Research Programs Agency-Energy. My proposal was awarded a $380,000 seedling grant. With this award, I will demonstrate that my novel technology is a balanced economic and sustainable solution for domestic energy production. My thesis research is entitled Microtubular Atomic Layer Deposition-based Reactor Systems for Catalytic Reforming and is a novel concept for fabricating microstructured reactors, including catalyst integration, for production of liquid fuels (gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). My work is focused on experimental validation of the concept of using atomic layer deposition for fabrication of a structured reactor, as an alternative to microchannel reactors, and the opportunity to improve on their performance. The goal is to reduce the cost and simplify the method of fabrication, to create a commercially-viable technology and we have filed a patent application. If successful, this domestic production of liquid fuels would create much needed jobs and revenue for the US economy. I am passionate about research and development of new technologies and their ability to make an immediate impact on domestic energy production and our nation’s economic concerns.
The Department of Energy Advanced Research Programs Agency-Energy looks to collaboratively work, with research teams, on projects prepared to meet quantitative benchmark performance goals on aggressive deadlines schedules. The future of my research will be to focus on transferring the successful technology to the next phase of commercialization. This seedling grant award is putting my PhD research into high gear, for my final year, and propelling me closer to my career goals of developing new technologies. This is a very exciting time and I anticipate continuing the advancement of this technology to the commercial market and continuing my professional career after obtaining my PhD.
My roots on my family’s ranch and in the small rural schools of Glendale, Oregon taught me what ‘work ethic’ meant and that if you want to succeed you have to approach life with passion and determination. With the help of many local scholarship programs, including my tribe, I attended Oregon State University and obtained my BS in Chemical Engineering. I began my research career there, with Dr. Skip Rochefort, in Polymer Engineering right out of high school. In those four years I became his research lab manager and was an inventor on our US patent Polyethylene Pipe Patching Systems and Methods, in collaboration with Timberline Tool in Whitefish, Montana. In my final year at Oregon State, I collaborated on a research project for Supercritical Continuous Biodiesel Production, which is how I found a passion for sustainable energy research.
My tribe led me to AIGC and, with their support, along with the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and my tribe, I have been able to focus my attention on research and my future career. Dr. Rochefort led me to work with Dr. Alan Weimer, in Colorado, on my PhD, and my recent research success has proven it was the right choice. Outside the research lab and my safety glasses, I have been able to enjoy some of the Colorado active lifestyle. From 100 mile bike rides to ultra-marathons and even becoming a fitness instructor, I strive to maintain a well-rounded lifestyle and avoid the stereotypical engineer habits ☺. I know that without the support of my family, friends, colleagues and organizations, like AIGC and the Department of Energy, the success I have had and wish to achieve would be out of my grasp and I appreciate that support every day.
Re-published with permission from The American Indian Graduate Center.