Professor to discuss successes, challenges of safer refrigerants in inaugural lecture

Friday, October 11, 2019

Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Mark B. ShiflettLAWRENCE — The quest to keep food, people and materials cool has had significant environmental impact on the planet. Mark Shiflett, Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, will discuss the past, present and possible future of refrigerants and the challenges of developing refrigerants that are safer for the planet.

Shiflett's inaugural distinguished professor presentation, “The History of Refrigerants: What’s Next?,” begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Hancock Ballroom of the Oread Hotel, 1200 Oread Ave. The lecture is open to all, and a reception will follow.

Shiflett, one of KU’s 10 Foundation Distinguished Professors, offered a brief summary of his topic:

The Montreal Protocol in the late ’80s and early ’90s phased out chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants because of their ozone depletion potential. The replacements, typically mixtures of hydrofluorocarbons, are safe for Earth's ozone layer, but some have been found to have high global warming potentials (GWPs). As a result, 197 countries signed the Kigali agreement in 2016 to phase out the use of high-GWP hydraofluorocarbons. There are thousands of tons of refrigerant mixtures that contain low-GWP compounds along with high-GWP compounds, but there are no good methods for separating and reclaiming these mixtures.

“The economic and environmental reasons for developing new separation technologies that can recover and recycle the 'low-GWP' hydrofluorocarbons are compelling,” Shiflett said. “It is hypothesized that ionic liquids could be effectively used in an HFC mixture separation process.”

The lecture will begin with a historical background on the development of refrigerants and lead into a discussion on measurement and modeling of refrigerant phase behavior in ionic liquids, Shiflett said. High-fidelity experiments, advanced atomistic simulations, and rigorous process design and optimization methods will be used in a coordinated manner to discover, synthesize and test new ionic liquid solvents that can be used in novel process configurations to enable the separation of hydrofluorocarbon mixtures, and in the case of azeotropic mixtures, make possible separations that are now virtually impossible. Ultimately, a lab-scale separation system will be constructed and operated to validate the models and experiments so that the process can be licensed to industry partners and commercialized, he said.

About Distinguished Professor Mark Shiflett
Mark Shiflett grew up in North Carolina and attended North Carolina State University. During his junior year he worked as a co-op student for the DuPont Company in Wilmington, Delaware, at the Chambers Works plant and quickly realized he had chosen the right profession. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and went to work for DuPont. His first assignment was to develop new refrigerant mixtures to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were linked to the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. His discoveries led to 30 U.S. patents and the development of three commercial refrigerants that are sold worldwide for use in commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning systems with total sales of more than $1 billion.

DuPont rewarded Shiflett with research funding to attend the University of Delaware, where he obtained a master’s degree and doctorate in chemical engineering while remaining a DuPont employee. He worked at the DuPont Experimental Station in Central Research and Development, which has a rich history of inventions, including Nylon, Teflon and many others. His doctoral thesis led to the development of the first tubular nanoporous carbon membranes for gas separation, and his first manuscript was published in the journal Science.

At DuPont he developed microporous carbons for safely storing hydrogen onboard fuel cell-powered vehicles for General Motors and Toyota. DuPont promoted him to lead a research team of engineers and chemists to develop a more energy-efficient, lower emission process for producing titanium dioxide (TiO2). DuPont was the global leader in the TiO2 market, producing over 100 million metric tons annually for use in formulating paints, plastics and paper. His team developed and patented the process, which is now owned by Chemours. Shiflett was promoted to Technical Fellow (the youngest in DuPont) and started his own research program on the properties of “ionic liquids,” salts that are liquid at room temperature. His work measuring and modeling the solubility of gases in ionic liquids led to over 60 peer-reviewed publications and 10 U.S. patents. The quality of his measurements is recognized internationally, and he is often asked to give plenary and keynote lectures around the world.

Shiflett returned to the University of Delaware in 2011 and began teaching as an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He taught the senior chemical engineering undergraduate laboratory courses while continuing to work at DuPont. After 28 years at DuPont, Shiflett retired to pursue a career in higher education.
He joined the faculty in the KU Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering in August 2016 as the university’s final Foundation Distinguished Professor. He is a researcher at the KU Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis and set up a laboratory in the LEEP2 Engineering Complex, which focuses on developing environmentally friendly, energy-efficient products and processes for the chemical industry. Since arriving at KU he has received three National Science Foundation grants totaling over $1 million in funding and has also received over $2 million in industry-sponsored research. Shiflett has mentored over 100 researchers at the postdoctoral, graduate student and undergraduate student level in his laboratories at KU and the University of Delaware.

Shiflett, a licensed professional engineer in the state of Delaware, is an inventor on 44 U.S. patents, has published over 90 articles and has edited two books on his research in academia and at DuPont. He was awarded the DuPont Bolton Carothers award in 2005, the ACS Hero of Chemistry award in 2006 and the University of Delaware presidential citation in 2007 for his development of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant mixtures to replace CFCs. Shiflett’s professional accomplishments and contributions to his field have earned him Fellow status in leading professional organizations and academies including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemical Society and the National Academy of Inventors. He received the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Institute award for Industrial Research in 2016 for the development of non-ozone-depleting refrigerants, which have led to the healing of the Earth’s ozone layer, new applications using ionic liquids an environmentally friendly TiO2 process, and mentoring and educating chemical engineers. In 2019, the KU School of Engineering selected him to receive the Miller Professional Development Award for Research.