HUNTINGTON - A Marshall University professor has secured a three-year, $65,000 grant to do petroleum research with the assistance of undergraduate students.
The funding, which was awarded by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund through a competitive process, will begin in 2013.
Assistant Chemistry Professor Laura McCunn said she and seven undergraduate students will use the funds to study how several specific molecules decompose when they are heated in the absence of oxygen.
McCunn says the results of their research will help shed light on biofuels and the mechanisms for combustion of conventional fossil fuels like petroleum. She and the students are particularly interested in exploring the decomposition of aldehydes, which occur as byproducts in biofuels and can be emitted from biodiesel engines.
"Our results will contribute to a model for the breakdown of fuels at high temperatures or for combustion of fuel mixtures that are not fully oxygenated," she said. "It's significant in the petroleum field because this model could help predict the pollutants or soot that could be generated from particular fuel mixtures."
To conduct the experiments, McCunn and the students will use an instrument they constructed in her laboratory. The hyperthermal nozzle they built will allow the research team to cause the thermal breakdown of sample molecules in an oxygen-free environment. The products of the process will be condensed and trapped for analysis using a special spectrometer.
McCunn says her lab is already using the process to study one aldehyde, but the grant will allow them to extend their experiments to include two more.
The grant program funding the project is aimed specifically at involving undergraduates in advanced research activities in preparation for graduate school or employment.