Author: Emily Flinchum

Brandon Bukowski, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has been named a recipient of the 2023 Amazon Research Award for his proposal: “Data-driven design and optimization of selective nanoporous catalysts for biofuel conversion”. Bukowski is the first researcher in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to receive this award.

Amazon Research Awards (ARA) provide a year of funding and Amazon Web Services (AWS) promotional credits to academic researchers investigating topics in multiple disciplines. Proposals for the fall 2023 cycle included six topics: AI for Information Security, Automated Reasoning, AWS AI, AWS Cryptography and Privacy, AWS Database Services, and Sustainability. Award recipients were reviewed for the quality of their scientific content and the potential societal impact of their proposals.

“There are a lot of incredible AI tools being developed by industry, and having partnerships where we can leverage some of their resources, such as Amazon Web Services, and expertise is what allows us to be on the cutting edge of solving the grand sustainability challenges we are facing,” said Bukowski.

Bukowski’s proposal aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft, which account for more than 10% of CO2 emissions globally. Designing batteries for aircraft is complex because they need to have high energy density and remain as light as possible. Instead of batteries, Bukowski is looking for an alternate method.

“We’d like to produce green aviation fuel from biomass resources such as agricultural waste, and then convert that into aviation fuel to start solving CO2 emissions immediately,” said Bukowski.

However, finding a material that makes this chemical transformation efficient is challenging, requiring the time-consuming testing of numerous options. Bukowski says this funding promises to make that process easier.

“This will allow us to develop new tools that use generative AI and propose new catalysts that will effectively reduce CO2 emissions,” he said.

Bukowski will work with Praveen Bollini from the University of Houston to experimentally validate the AI’s predictions and make sure it is targeting the correct performance metrics for a real material.

He says that while this research focuses on aviation fuel, this proposal has the potential to expand sustainability efforts across multiple processes with its adaptable AI.

“The fundamental AI research from this project will enable us to design catalysts for other types of processes, such as removing CO2 from the air or producing carbon-free fuels,” said Bukowski.