WWU professor earns award for CO2 breakdown research

John Gilbertson, an assistant professor of chemistry at Western Washington University, has been awarded a five-year, $470,000 Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation for his research into breaking down harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and transforming them into useful compounds.

The award was one of only a handful given out to master’s-granting institutions, such as WWU, and it is the university’s third such award in three years.

Gilbertson and his team of students are investigating how to use cheap, Earth-abundant metals to transform the typically unreactive carbon dioxide molecule into useful chemicals and fuels, such as syngas and methanol.

One practical application of Gilbertson’s research is a parallel use of the existing coal-to-liquids process that turns coal into syngas. But Gilbertson’s processes eliminate the need to use coal altogether.

Gas-to-liquids technology, using the current boom on natural gas production in North America, also offers similar paths for Gilbertson and his researchers.

The research component of his award will fund two undergraduates and one graduate student per year as research assistants.

Besides the research component to the grant, the award also funds a curricular/outreach effort that Gilbertson is tentatively calling “Scientist Citizen.” Gilbertson will be working with a student team to produce a series of videos focused on science-education topics of regional and national interest through traditional and digital media outlets such as YouTube and public television.

For more information, email John Gilbertson at john.gilbertson@wwu.edu.

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