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Charles talks about the new Institute for Energy Studies.

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I recently interviewed Charles Thumbi for a Grad Story. Charles is a graduate of our Chemical Engineering MS program and now works for the Institute for Energy Studies at UND. Here is a small part of Charles’ interview. Click here to read Charles’ complete Grad Story.

Charles Thumbi - Chemical Engineer and Researcher for IES

What sparked your interest in Chemical Engineering?

 Growing up I have always had an interest in finding out how things work and I guess this is what captured my interest. I was very curious and always seemed to take things apart; I would either put it back together or fail, getting me into trouble with my parents. It’s very interesting to note that everyone in my family is involved in some form of business career, but I took a different route.  In college, I started out as a mechanical engineering student but after taking several chemistry classes and participating in a class tour to a refinery, my interest shifted to chemical engineering. I tend to think that chemical engineering gives you the necessary engineering skills, and goes a step further in building both business and social awareness skills. It’s a very versatile degree.

Can you talk a little bit about your research?

Definitely; I have been very lucky to be involved in several multidisciplinary projects. Perhaps the most interesting one has been on carbon dioxide capture from fossil fired powered stations. Fossil fired electric generation power plants are the highest stationary emissions source of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Together with other collaborators, we have developed a technology that uses solid sorbents that potentially have lower energy requirements and will not significantly add to the cost of electricity than competing technologies currently in development.

Another project I was involved with was looking at innovative ways of using North Dakota sourced lignite coal for steam and electricity generation, while at the same time creating a saleable product. Relative to other types of coals such as a sub-bituminous grade, North Dakota lignite coal has very unique and interesting characteristics such as high moisture levels and alkali constituents, both of which tend to reduce the efficiency of any boiler and gas clean-up systems. These characteristics have sort of labeled North Dakota lignite as a troublesome fuel. To circumvent this issue, I looked at partial gasification as a way of generating syngas that could be fired in a boiler to generate high pressure steam while simultaneously producing carbon products that can be sold for profit. In simpler terms, value addition of North Dakota resources.

A third project has been on mercury control, where my research group is looking at ways of increasing the capture and sequestration of mercury generated during taconite pellets processing.

These are some of the high level projects I am working on, and are centered on the energy and environmental fields, which is always what I have always wanted to be involved with.

You’ve graduated and you are now a researcher with UND’s brand new Institute for Energy Studies (IES), which is a multi-disciplinary campus-wide institute. Energy, clean energy and energy efficiency are huge buzzwords in industry, politics and education, so this Institute s very timely for our university, too.

Yes, it is. Energy security, efficiency and integration of renewables as a way to reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is a great challenge facing many nations. UND is renowned for its energy-related research and what the IES brings to the table is incorporation of other parallel parties such as public policy, education, business and law to the table. All these parties need to work hand in hand in creation of policies that affect our lives and the IES is expected to play a very big role.

Its mission is educating the community and students, but it also has research and outreach components making it accessible and vital for not only the people on campus but also for the broader community.

Yes, you’re right on the money! The institute incorporates the university’s mission of being a premiere energy university while also leading in educational programs. The institute brings a variety of people and stakeholders to the same table, and provides a platform where issues related to energy and policy can be discussed. Doing this through the university allows for easier accessibility to the community.

Visit http://gradstories.omeka.net to read all of our Grad Stories.

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Written by School of Graduate Studies

September 9, 2011 at 11:14 am