• Tech Tech

Engineers developing technology to tackle major issue with microwaves: 'Our research is part of a larger industrial transformation'

"By next year, the U.S. will have 3.5 million jobs to fill in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields."

"By next year, the U.S. will have 3.5 million jobs to fill in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields."

Photo Credit: West Virginia University

An exciting job market could be opening up for a new generation thanks to a first-of-its-kind chemical reactor that uses microwaves to reduce pollution from the industrial sector. 

In a press release, West Virginia University announced that engineers at the school received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop their device, which has been able to create ethylene and ammonia by using microwave electromagnetic radiation.

These two compounds, which are important in many industrial processes in order to turn materials into useful products, typically release large amounts of heat-trapping gases during their production, but the microwave method was able to reduce energy consumption by 85%. 

"Using microwaves allows us to control the heat delivery very precisely," lead researcher John Hu explained of its efficiency, noting that the microwave system is also able to run on clean energy — unlike traditional reactors. 

Their project, which is building upon the work of previous researchers at WVU, is expected to be part of an overhaul that benefits Americans. 

"Our research is part of a larger industrial transformation," Hu said in the university's press release, adding that he expects jobs to be created by the eventual commercialization of their technology, including in communities that have been impacted by the transition away from coal.

As part of their work, researchers at West Virginia intend to engage with local students of all ages, as well as teachers, and learn and discuss how low-carbon ethylene and ammonia production could support the area's economy. 

"By next year, the U.S. will have 3.5 million jobs to fill in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. … We'll host experiences for high school students and teachers in our labs and build activities around this research that will be the basis for WVU Engineering Challenge Camps, engaging local high school and middle school students," Hu explained

Reducing pollution associated with industrial heating would help create a healthier future as well. Breathing in particles released by the burning of dirty energy, which traditional reactors are powered by, has been linked to respiratory issues like asthma, while WVU noted that "carbon-intensive methods like combustion" are generally used to create industrial heat. 

The industrial sector's heating needs alone generate 9% of all planet-warming pollution in the United States, according to the DOE

While there are programs like the Inflation Reduction Act that have helped individual Americans adopt cleaner, more cheaper technologies, from electric vehicles to solar panels, emerging technologies in various sectors are expected to assist with continuing that momentum at another level.

In WVU's press release, Hu said that the microwave reactor has already been proved in the laboratory, and he hopes to demonstrate the technology in a true industrial environment when the study concludes in three years. 

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider