Michael E. Mullins

Michael E. Mullins


  • Professor, Chemical Engineering
  • PhD, University of Rochester


Catalysis, Reactor design and modelling
For the past 30 years, a large portion of our research and consulting has dealt with reactor modeling and catalysis for energy and environmental applications. Specifically, we have developed an expertise in multiphase reactor design for a wide range of processes ranging from the hydrotreatment of pyrolysis oil for transportation fuels, to designing the water treatment reactor on the International Space Station (ISS). In many ways the design of chemical reactors is still an art, and attempts to develop robust reactor design software have had limited success. Commercial “black box” process simulators (e.g. ASPEN or UNISIM) simply cannot provide detailed multiphase reactor analyses. To fill this gap, my research group has developed experimental data, models and associated computer applications to perform more detailed, process-level reactor analysis. With sponsorship from the EPA, we developed the Heuristics and Reactor Design (HARD) models in which environmental and energy objectives are major design elements. There is a recognized need for this type of process-level analysis to improve Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies for biofuel production. As a result, we have been working on NSF and DOE research projects focused on the hydrotreatment (HDT) of pyrolysis oil and plant oils to produce renewable diesel in which we are using these models. This process-level approach has brought a fresh perspective to the analysis of biofuel production, and the results have improved the prediction of environmental impacts, energy efficiency, economic performance, and LCA models. I am currently the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy at Chalmers University in Sweden where we are building upon our past work by using our approach to study the hydrotreatment of several different biofuel feedstocks to produce transportation fuels. By analyzing this paradigm process, our method can be extended not only to study other biorefinery processes, but other chemical industries as well.

New Materials Discovery
We are exploring methods to make novel nanoscale structures for use as electrodes, catalysts, biomaterials, and membranes. Specific current research includes the development of polymer/inorganic nanofibers for tissue scaffolds, electrosynthesis of new hybrid materials, porous carbon electrodes for battery and fuel cell applications, the development of zeolite membranes for gas phase separations and reactions, the production of nanometer scale polymer/ceramic particles, and the synthesis of polymer inorganic nanocomposites for biomedical, electronic and photonic applications. We employ sol-gel synthesis, polymers, vapor, and plasma techniques to achieve unique catalytic, electronic, or physical properties. Our group uses a variety of spectroscopic techniques including FTIR and FT-Raman. We also characterize materials via cyclic voltametry, TGA/DSC, gas adsorption/BET, and mass spectrometry to elucidate the chemistry and structure of the materials.

Environmental Thermodynamics and Fate Assessment
An understanding of the partitioning and reaction of contaminants in the environment is crucial to the design of clean industrial processes and for fate assessment studies. Whether these contaminants end up in groundwater soil air or even if these contaminants end up in groundwater, soil, air, or even in humans is a function of their thermodynamic behavior in each of these compartments. Since most environmental contaminants are dilute, we have spent the past decade studying dilute solution thermodynamics and partitioning experimentally and theoretically. We have been involved in measuring vapor-liquid equilibria for mixed solvent/electrolyte systems, and developing models to predict the behavior of such systems.

Links of Interest

Teaching Interests

  • Thermodynamics
  • Reactor Design

Research Interests

  • Catalysis, reactor design, and thermodynamics
  • Engineered nanostructures