By Brooke Coupal
When Office of Sustainability Asst. Director Craig Thomas assessed the research being conducted by UML faculty, he discovered that many projects tied back to sustainability.
“The Office of Sustainability was really impressed by how much research was moving in that direction,” he says.
Looking for ways to support this research, Thomas teamed up with University Library Director Allison Estell to create the Sustainable Publishing Fund (SPF), which provides up to $1,500 to researchers who want to publish their sustainability-related work in open-access journals.
“Standard open-access journals are free to use, but faculty deal with the barrier of having to pay an upfront submission fee to get their research published,” Thomas says. “So, we created a fund to help.”
The Sustainable Publishing Fund looks favorably on applicants whose scholarly work can be used in teaching at UML, reinforcing additional initiatives on campus working toward providing low- and no-cost course materials for students.
“Open access helps address issues of equity and inclusion,” Estell says. “The University Library offers open-access journals in our collections. We are also engaging in conversations with peer institutions and vendors about so-called ‘transformative agreements,’ which seek to maintain and grow library access to quality materials while shifting library acquisition dollars from subscription journals to covering publishing costs so that researchers at our institutions may share their research without additional fees.”
Chemical Engineering Asst. Prof. Fanglin Che became the first SPF recipient during a pilot round of funding this past spring. She used the funds to publish a research paper, where she served as the corresponding author, in JACS Au, an American Chemical Society open-access journal. The research paper titled “Deep Learning-Assisted Investigation of Electric Field–Dipole Effects on Catalytic Ammonia Synthesis” was featured on the front cover of the journal’s June 2022 issue.
“I was extremely excited to get the funding,” Che says. “It’s an honor to be appreciated for our hard work on sustainability.”
Che and her team of researchers, including rising junior chemical engineering major Jaime Notarangelo and chemical engineering Ph.D. candidate Mingyu Wan, focused their research on ammonia, which is used widely in fertilizers and shows promise as a future zero-carbon fuel.
For the past century, ammonia has been produced using an industrial-scale chemical process known as the Haber-Bosch process, which requires high temperatures and pressures. To create this required energy, the Harber-Bosch process consumes 2% of worldwide fossil fuels and releases 420 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, according to previous studies.
The research team looked at using an electric field driven by renewable electricity to accelerate ammonia synthesis, as opposed to having to use high temperatures and pressures. They discovered this process to be energy-efficient and sustainable.
“We care about ammonia because it could be used as a zero-carbon fuel that is environmentally friendly,” Che says. “For instance, the Navy is looking into using ammonia as a fuel to power their ships.”
She plans on creating a graduate course titled “Applied Machine Learning in Engineering,” where students will complete a project based on the deep learning model that the team developed during their research.
“Her research is not only sustainability-focused; she also plans to build coursework around it,” says Thomas, attributing both criteria as to why Che was awarded funding. “Having a direct, immediate benefit for our students is really important, and it’s another journal article that they will not have to pay to access.”