Alumnus David Miller Helping Reduce Industry CO2 Emissions

Friday, March 25, 2016
David Miller

Green Chemistry: David Miller, a 1990 chemistry alumnus, is leading a multidisciplinary team dedicated to speeding up deployment of industrial-scale carbon capture technology. The work is "absolutely essential" to one of the major challenges facing the world, according to Miller.

By working to cut industrial carbon dioxide emissions, David Miller is in the thick of a battle many are calling "the challenge of our generation"-the struggle to keep the planet from becoming too hot.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas produced when fossil fuels are burned. In 2013, the federal government estimated the United States added more than 6.6 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents to the atmosphere, contributing to a blanket of greenhouse gases wrapping itself around the planet.

Miller's goal as director of a special U.S. Department of Energy project is to help factories and power plants, accounting for about half of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, deploy technology that will capture those gases so that they can then be harmlessly stored.

"A project like this is absolutely essential to help meet the need for carbon capture technology at a faster pace, at a lower cost, and lower [technical] risk," says the 1990 chemistry alumnus.

The effort Miller leads is the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI), a coalition of five research universities, five national laboratories, and more than 20 industry partners. The goal is to create computational tools and models to help industry dramatically reduce the time it takes to develop large-scale carbon capture technology. Currently, bringing that technology online at an actual industrial facility can take between 20 and 30 years. With CCSI's help, industries should be able to reduce that time by as much as 30 percent.

So far, the project has been a "phenomenal success," according to Miller. The initiative, started in 2011, released the first generation of its computational "tool set" in 2012, a full year ahead of schedule. The next phase of the project, Carbon Capture for Industry Impact (CCSI2), will launch this year. It will focus on applying the ever-improving tool set to specific industrial projects where actual scale-up is taking place.

Miller notes the need to reduce carbon emissions is one of the major challenges facing the world.

"It's great to come to work and know I am making a difference," he says from the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In recognition of his leadership of CCSI, George Washington University's Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration awarded Miller its prestigious Arthur S. Flemming Award in 2014. The award honors "outstanding men and women in the federal government." Miller credits the engineers, physicists, mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists involved in the project with much of CCSI's success.

After growing up mostly in Indiana, Miller studied chemistry at Rose-Hulman before earning a master's degree at the University of Illinois in 1993 and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 1998, both in chemical engineering. He taught chemical engineering at Rose-Hulman from 2001 until joining NETL in 2009.