Sept. 22, 2021

2021 Vanier scholar transforms greenhouse gas to synthetic fuels of the future

Muflih Adnan is one of 7 winners of 2021 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship
Muflih Adam

It wouldn’t be a shock to say that Muflih Adnan’s research is electrifying.

Adnan, a doctoral student in chemical and petroleum engineering and winner of a 2021 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, is researching ways to create carbon-based products without extracting hydrocarbons from the ground.

The idea of moving away from hydrocarbons to other sources of chemical feedstocks and energy raises many questions. Even if we no longer use hydrocarbon fuels, what would we do about plastics, lubricants and all the other products that are provided by the hydrocarbon industry?

Electrolysis and hydrocarbon products

For Adnan, the answer is low-carbon electricity. His research explores the use of electrolysis, an electrochemical process that uses electricity to convert carbon dioxide and water to produce chemical components. Carbon derived in this way could be used to create the carbon-based chemical that we find in hydrocarbon products.

As we shift toward more green technologies for generating electricity (e.g., solar power), Adnan wants to find better ways of harnessing that energy to create fuels, lubricants, plastics and other industrial applications that currently rely on hydrocarbons.

In the process of electrolysis, carbon dioxide and water are broken down into ions, and those ions can be rearranged to form other chemicals. The challenge is that the process is very expensive; as Adnan explains, the cost of creating methane through electrolysis is about three times the cost of getting methane through natural gas extraction.

“I’m trying to make electrolysis more viable by extending the life of the electrolytic process and to reduce costs,” says Adnan. “I’m researching how we use catalysts and membranes in electrolysis. The membrane functions to prevent the undesired movement of ions during electrolysis. I’m looking at how we can improve the performance of both catalysts and membranes so that it works more efficiently and is more cost-effective.”

Leading research in electrolysis at UCalgary

Originally from Indonesia, Adnan’s studies have taken him on a long journey from his undergraduate degree at Indonesia’s Universitas Sebelas Maret, through to a master’s degree at Saudia Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals before he arrived in Calgary for his PhD.

“I entered the field of chemical and petroleum engineering because I wanted to do work that would benefit people,” says Adnan. “I was drawn to the University of Calgary to work under the supervision of Dr. Md Golam Kibria in his Sustainable Energy Group because of his work in electrolysis. Dr. Kibria also encouraged me to apply for the Vanier scholarship, which will support my research, allowing me to travel to conferences and work on publications.”

Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) is one of the most prestigious awards available to doctoral students in Canada. The University of Calgary is proud to recognize seven outstanding graduate students who are receiving the 2021 Vanier CGS, valued at $50,000 per year for three years.

“Muflih Adnan’s research is typical of our Vanier scholars, which is to say that it is outstanding in every sense,” says Dr. Robin Yates, dean and vice-provost, graduate studies. “As with all of our Vanier scholars, Muflih is exploring ideas with the potential to make great contributions to his discipline. His research may very well help our society transition into a green future at a crucial time. I’m immensely proud of Muflih and all of our Vanier scholars.”

The other UCalgary 2021 Vanier CGS winners include:

Amanda Foote, Anthropology

  • New Songs and Old Ones; Exploring the ways Indigenous Treaty 7 People have (Gained) Access to and Control of their Material Culture in Museums

Jessica Elizabeth Cooke, Clinical Psychology

  • Predicting and Preventing Problematic Parent-Child Relationship Quality

Leah Chadwick, Clinical Psychology

  • The Effect of Parental and Family Functioning on Children's Recovery from Concussion

Seham Abdulmajed A. Elmrayed, Community Health Sciences

  • Childhood Obesity: Improving the Assessment and Communication

Chelsea Leann Klinke, Anthropology

  • Sahpahtsimah: Collaborating in a Good Way: The Nutritional, Spiritual, Ecological, and Relational Well-being of Indigenous Postsecondary Circles

Hanjoo Shim, Immunology

  • Live Imaging Neutrophils in the Beating Heart: Understanding Mechanisms of Recruitment During Sterile Heart Injury