Engineering Frontiers Winter 2021-2022 (2024)

VIEWED CISTAR Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources CISTAR is developing new technologies to create the nation's transition "bridge" toward decarbonization and lead to a more sustainable economy. (Photo credit: Purdue University | Vincent Walter)

10 minutes to read

Banner image: CISTAR Graduate Fellow and chemical engineering PhD student Phil Kester works with an instrument that studies adsorption of gases on zeolites in Forney Hall.

CISTAR (Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources), founded in 2017 and led by Purdue, supports research to develop new technologies to make more optimal use of U.S. shale-gas deposits. The center is focused on critical technical challenges to realize the nation’s transition “bridge” toward decarbonization and contribute to a more sustainable economy.

The center’s vision is to create a transformative engineered system to convert light hydrocarbons from shale resources to chemicals and transportation fuels, while lowering the nation’s energy costs and enabling a lower carbon footprint. It is anticipated that the decarbonization technologies of processes developed at CISTAR will be achieved by exploring electrification of manufacturing based on renewable energy sources. This also has potential to revolutionize many other industries, such as metals, cement and food segments, and the processes eventually will reduce carbon emissions as well as being cheaper and more economical.

CISTAR is the second Purdue-led National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center (NSF ERC) and the only one still operating. Purdue’s first NSF ERC, the Center for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems, was established in 1988 and concluded in 1997. CISTAR has provided evidence that Purdue is capable of successfully managing a significant investment like an NSF grant as the lead university and operating a complex, cross-institutional partnership. To date, CISTAR has received $21M in NSF funding.

As a result of interdisciplinary, synergistic research, CISTAR has made significant advances in the following areas:

More efficient processes to produce fuels and chemicals:

Purdue-based researchers created a new, more economical process for converting natural gas liquid (NGL) to liquid fuel. An alternative ordering of process hierarchy makes fuel manufacturing more efficient with a 30 percent lower capital cost and an 85 percent higher internal rate of return.

In the all-important polymer manufacturing process, researchers demonstrated a new approach to chemical catalysis that enables high propylene yields using a reduced carbon footprint. The solution provides a new way to make the building blocks more efficiently, through the oxidative dehydrogenation of propane, using a new catalyst formulation and a new membrane that can separate alkanes from alkenes with unprecedented selectivity. The findings could support more energy-efficient production processes for many plastics.

CISTAR’s research has resulted in 16 patent applications, and the center is beginning to see some licensing to companies.

Increased industry and scientific community engagement:

CISTAR recently reached a milestone of 30 industry members, collectively representing more than 1 million employees, with continuing new interest in joining CISTAR. Aided by effective CISTAR outreach, industry contacts have remained active despite the many challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, CISTAR has grown a powerful base of partnerships with U.S. national research laboratories, as well as major labs in the UK, Germany and Brazil.

Engineering workforce development:

CISTAR provides several innovative, collaborative forms of workforce development, for learners of various ages and educational stages.

At the K-12 level, since 2018, CISTAR students and staff have impacted 18,592 students and more than 1,000 teachers across the U.S. with STEM outreach. The center has engaged 41 teachers in summer research and collaborated with Purdue’s INSPIRE research institute in the School of Engineering Education to develop a curriculum unit for eighth-grade science integrating engineering design and energy concepts, titled “Turn the Lights On!”

The CISTAR Research Experience and Mentoring (REM) summer program is a unique combined experience that is creating a diverse next generation of technically- and community-minded engineers. Students conduct six weeks of cutting-edge research on “Energy for Our Growing World” with CISTAR and then spend four weeks mentoring third-through-fifth-graders at the National Society for Black Engineering (NSBE) Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) camp.

Summer research programs designed to broaden participation in chemical engineering have engaged 42 undergraduate students from across the country. A signature program developed with the NSBE attracts students from groups underrepresented in engineering to Purdue. CISTAR Graduate Fellows benefit by collaborating across research groups at different campuses, participating in a range of professional development activities, and collaborating with partner companies.

In 2021, CISTAR Graduate Fellows were offered an opportunity to take innovation-learning courses through CISTAR’s Innovation Academy, which builds on and extends the center’s research goals. The academy works with and encompasses workforce development goals to create a technically excellent and inclusive community. It provides mentoring and growth in technology-led entrepreneurship and innovation, focused on practical skills and applications.

Through a partnership with Dow, an Industrial Reaction Engineering Course was created in which students can earn two certificates. This course, which engages Dow reaction engineers, has impacted more than 600 people from across the globe since it began in 2020.

Engineering Frontiers Winter 2021-2022 (3)

Summer Research Experience and Mentoring (REM) student Mya Strickland works in the lab in Forney Hall.
(Photo credit: CISTAR)

Engineering Frontiers Winter 2021-2022 (4)

CISTAR Graduate Fellow and chemical engineering PhD student Arunima Saxena carries out chemical reactions in the lab.
(Photo credit: Purdue University | Vincent Walter)

Engineering Frontiers Winter 2021-2022 (5)

An abundant U.S. energy resource known as shale gas could be harvested as a “bridge fuel” until renewable technologies can be perfected. CISTAR is working to develop new technologies needed to convert shale gas into transportation fuels and chemicals.
(Image credit: CISTAR)

Engineering Frontiers Winter 2021-2022 (6)

CISTAR Organizational Chart


  • 30 faculty affiliated with CISTAR, with 11 of them at Purdue University

Partner Institutions

  • Purdue University (lead)
  • The University of New Mexico
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • The University of Texas at Austin
Engineering Frontiers Winter 2021-2022 (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Fr. Dewey Fisher

Last Updated:

Views: 5269

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Fr. Dewey Fisher

Birthday: 1993-03-26

Address: 917 Hyun Views, Rogahnmouth, KY 91013-8827

Phone: +5938540192553

Job: Administration Developer

Hobby: Embroidery, Horseback riding, Juggling, Urban exploration, Skiing, Cycling, Handball

Introduction: My name is Fr. Dewey Fisher, I am a powerful, open, faithful, combative, spotless, faithful, fair person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.