Thematic Research

Faculty from the department's academic clusters work together in thematic research areas: Energy / Environmental Engineering Science / Advanced Material / Sustainable Technologies for Environmental Health & International Development


While energy has long been an important topic, concerns about human’s environmental footprint, such as that due to carbon dioxide, and concerns about security and rapid global development, have recently brought this field to the forefront. The Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering is focused on a number of areas critical to the future of energy.

These include technological innovations for fossil fuel systems; with primary emphasis on carbon dioxide mitigation, and control of fine particle and other pollutant emissions. The group works on novel combustion systems for coal, bio-fuels and other fossil fuels. Extensive work is underway in development of clean coal technologies such as oxy-coal combustion, fine particle capture, fate of fly ash in the environment, utilization of fly ash, carbon dioxide capture and conversion, sequestration, and mercury control technologies. The research is supported by the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization.

The second area of research is the collaborative, systems approach planned for bio-fuels development from plant based sources and environmentally-benign adaptation and implementation. A synergistic approach to power generation that is carbon dioxide neutral is being considered wherein next generation bio-refineries are located adjacent to coal fired power plants.

We are tapping into our strengths in advanced materials to accelerate the development and implementation of cost effective solar-based technologies. Research and development activities are focused on development of next generation solar PV devices based on oxide semiconductors, and nano-bio hybrid systems. Work is also underway in development of electrical energy storage in battery systems.

Finally, the group also examines energy and environmental issues associated with the rural populations (half the total world’s population) across the globe. We focus research, education, and policy collaborations on energy and environmental areas that address energy security issues, particularly focusing on 3 billion people who lack access to clean energy and are unable to climb the energy ladder. We address a multitude of complex issues in a cross-disciplinary approach spanning science, technology, social science, and policy interventions. This work is being done collaboratively with the School of Social Work and our international network of Universities, MAGEEP.

Environmental Engineering Science

A scientific approach is used to study and minimize the impact of anthropogenic processes on the environment. The focus of research is in two areas: water and air quality. Faculty focus on cross-disciplinary research on innovative physical, chemical and biological processes in engineered systems that result in clean water and air.

Research in the aquatics areas focus on fate and transport of heavy metals and radionuclides in natural and engineered systems, aquatic chemistry, environmental implications of advanced materials such as nanomaterials, and biogeological cycling in complex environmental systems from nanoscale to macroscale.

Topical areas of research in Aerosols and Air Quality include the study of fine particle formation and growth dynamics, engineered systems for their measurement, capture and control, fate and transport in indoor environments and the atmosphere. Faculty study these processes over multiple spatio-temporal scales. Systems of study include combustion processes, innovative designs for particle control systems, novel instrumentation for measurements of aerosols and air pollutants.

Advanced Materials

Advances in nanoscience and engineering, analytical tools and computation offer tremendous opportunities to design the function of materials and chemical processes. The department is ideally positioned to be a major contributor in this area. The existing strengths in knowledge-based synthesis and manufacturing of nanomaterials, especially solar nanomaterials, via aerosol, liquid-phase self-assembly and laser-induced self-organization routes, materials characterization and multiscale modeling and simulations have already resulted in high impact research in energy materials. In this regard, future expansion will focus on experimental and theoretical/computational research aimed at novel synthesis/manufacturing routes, photon/electron/ion/phonon transport in novel materials, multiscale biological and synthetic materials and materials for energy storage/release as well as acquisition of instrumentation for time- and space- resolved measurements that will enable the determination of processing-structure-function relationships.

Sustainable Technologies for Environmental Health & International Development

Sustainable engineering is built on the application of scientific and mathematical principles and consideration of economic factors that are central to chemical and environmental engineering.

Sustainable engineering principles extend the investigation and development of specific processes or products to consider their full life-cycles and their social and economic impacts in addition to its technological performance. Areas of coverage will include: benign synthesis routes, reaction engineering, plant-based synthesis routes and environmental remediation.

Another area of interest is the role of the environment in public health problems of global dimensions, including the spread of infectious diseases. Sustainable water quality and water quantity are crucial to protecting human health and maintaining health ecosystems. Emerging contaminants, which include nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals and other synthetic organic compounds, pose challenges to environmental health. Urban water quality is a critical component of environmental health, and interdisciplinary research will investigate the linkages among land use, water quantity, water quality and urban ecosystems.

The development of sensors and an associated cyberinfrastructure can enrich this research and also provide a means of public communication of environmental health indicators. With increasing stress placed on finite water and energy resources, technologies for water reuse must continue to be developed and the intersection between energy and water supply optimized.

Sustainable air quality and technologies that provide for clean air will be paramount in a rapidly developing world. The direct linkage of adverse health effects in both urban and rural areas to poor air quality further illustrates the needs for better understanding of this linkage and the development of effective technologies.

Center for Energy & Environmental Outreach

The Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering sponsors world-class research with a focus on environmental engineering science, energy systems and chemical engineering.
The value of this research is enhanced when directly applied in solving real world problems by linking Washington University's knowledge base to industry, government, community organizations, business leaders and other research institutions and individuals.
The Center for Energy & Environmental Outreach provides a necessary information exchange through collaborative research projects and industrial partnerships, and by engaging students and faculty in local, national and international energy and environmental activities.

Mission statement: The Center for Energy & Environmental Outreach functions as a conduit between the faculty and students within Washington University and the engineers and scientists working on providing solutions to energy and environmental challenges in a changing world.

Program description: The Center for Energy & Environmental Outreach is a renaissance of the original EPRI Community Environmental Center brought to the Washington University School of Engineering in 1992 by Ameren, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and a number of national and international electric utilities. This office continues to focus on issues of regional, national, and international concern relating to water treatment, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, alternative fuels, environmental performance and new technology solutions.

Ray Ehrhard