Elizabeth J. Biddinger is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at The City College of New York, CUNY. Her research group focuses on green chemistry and energy applications including the electrification of chemical processes that transform wastes or renewable resources into valuable materials, chemicals or fuels for decarbonization and sustainability; and the use of ionic liquids as electrolytes in electrochemical systems for improved performance and safety. Prior to joining City College in 2012, she was a post-doctoral fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology. Professor Biddinger received her PhD in chemical engineering in 2010 from The Ohio State University and her B.S. in chemical engineering in 2005 from Ohio University.
Read her Emerging Investigator article “Kinetics of furfural electrochemical hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis in acidic media on copper” and read more about her in the interview below:
How do you feel about Reaction Chemistry & Engineering as a place to publish?
Our paper was on determining the mechanism and kinetics of the electrochemical hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis of biomass-derived furfural to furfuryl alcohol and 2-methyl furan on copper in acidic electrolytes. Reaction Chemistry & Engineering was a great fit for this paper because we used traditional catalytic and reaction engineering methods to look at an electrochemical reaction. The topic fit the journal well and the readership will appreciate the techniques that we used. We hope that the readership agrees with us too!
What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment and what do you find most challenging about your research?
I’m excited right now about all of the opportunities that exist to decarbonize and make more sustainable chemical manufacturing using electrochemical techniques. We are currently at a crossroads as a society with what to do about our CO2 emissions and our resource utilization. In other sectors such as transportation we are much further along in what solutions look like than where we are in chemical manufacturing. We have an opportunity to completely re-think how we make chemicals and fuels. The utilization of renewable electricity to power chemical processes such as electrochemical reactors is one such way that we can produce chemicals and fuels for the next era. To push the vision of decarbonizing chemical manufacturing forward, I am excited to be Deputy Director of the Center for Decarbonizing Chemical Manufacturing Using Sustainable Electrification (DC-MUSE) that has just formed. The biggest challenge to this vision is that we’ve been making chemicals and fuels the same way for more than a century. That’s a lot of inertia that we have to go against to make such a drastic change. Ultimately, I think the pressure to address CO2 emissions and sustainability will become enabling to new technologies.
Where does my research fit in with all of this specifically? My group focuses on the electrochemical reactions. We have to understand the behaviour of the electrochemical reactions to be able to design the reactors and implement them at scale. The fundamental knowledge we develop will be applied by others in implementation. The biggest challenge in our own research is making sure the tools we utilize will allow us to answer the questions about mechanisms, kinetics, parameter effects and so on when the reactions are complicated – multiple pathways, side reactions, etc. We’ve taken to methodically evaluating what the nuances of the reactions we are studying are and then are able to better control them to probe our specific questions at hand
Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Get engaged in your respective professional societies early. Volunteer for positions and activities. By doing this, you will develop your network quickly. It’s so great to be able to reach out to senior members of your field with questions or collaboration ideas and have them know who you are because of your society engagement. Society engagement is also a great place to meet fellow early careers scientists and engineers who may be going through the same things as you, getting started. In the end, it’s all very rewarding.
Keep up to date with Elizabeth and her research by following her on Twitter @EJBiddinger and connect with her on LinkedIn