Category: Research

Natalie Nold Makes an Appearance in the Heldt Lab

Natalie Nold in the Heldt Bioseparations Lab.
Natalie Nold in the Heldt Bioseparations Lab.

Caryn Heldt (ChE/HRI) was quoted and Ph.D. student Natalie Nold (chemical engineering) was pictured by Chemical & Engineering News Magazine in a photo essay featuring images of the laboratories where C&EN readers work and what makes those spaces special to them.

A version of the essay appeared in Volume 101, Issue 32 of the magazine.

Read more and view the gallery in “Scenes from Where Chemists Work” in Chemical & Engineering News Magazine.

Alberto Mejía: New Faculty Spotlight

Portrait photo of Alberto Mejia
Bienvenido, Dr. Alberto Mejía!

Luis Alberto Mejía Manzano comes to Michigan Tech from Monterrey, Mexico, where he earned his MS and PhD in Biotechnology at the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM). He earned his undergraduate degree in Biotechnology Engineering, Universidad Politécnica de Pachuca. Welcome, Dr. Mejía!

What drew you to Michigan Tech?

I am here at Michigan Tech for a research stay in bioprocessing and virus purification. I will also be contributing my own expertise in the field.

What is your primary area of research and what led you to it?

I am focused on the design of green bioprocessing for the recovery of high value biomolecules and bioparticles.

Can you share a little more about your research and what you like about it?

I have worked in the purification of PEG-modified proteins/enzymes (PEGylated). They are used as biopharmaceuticals in the treatment of several diseases. They’re also of interest in the recovery and purification of anticancer, low-molecular weight compounds such as flavonoids. The purpose is to design more adequate, efficient and sustainable bioprocesses.

What do you consider an important long-term goal for your research?

I want to generate new knowledge and new practical applications of our research. These offer solutions to current and future human needs in food safety, as well as health care and treatment.

“Realize your dreams, contribute in your profession to humanity in a positive way.”

Advice for incoming students from Dr. Alberto Mejía, Chemical Engineering Adjunct Assistant Professor and Research Assistant Professor

What do you hope to accomplish, as an educator and as a researcher, over the next few years?

One goal is to discover a novel bioprocess for obtaining these bioproducts, all the while teaching through my experience in research. I hope to inspire a new generation of professionals.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to spend time with my family, friends, reading thriller/science fiction novels and hiking.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or piece of art?

In general, I like suspense books and movies.

Dr. Mejía, Michigan Tech’s Mont Ripley is a great place to hike and enjoy the fall colors!

Any favorite sports on campus, in Houghton, or in the UP?

Hiking is also considered for me a sport.

Any advice for incoming students?

Realize your dreams, contribute in your profession to humanity in a positive way. Be sure to enjoy the diverse options you have available right here on the MTU campus.

Kaiwu Huang: New Faculty Spotlight

Kaiwu Huang, Research Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering

Kaiwu Huang comes to Michigan Tech from Virginia Tech, where he worked as a research associate in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering. He earned his BS in Mining and Minerals Engineering at China University of Mining and Technology in Beijing, and his MS and PhD in Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech. Welcome, Dr. Huang!

What drew you to Michigan Tech?

First, my background and training in mineral processing drew me here—they’re a great fit for my current position. Second, the Department of Chemical Engineering has a strong program in mineral processing, especially in battery recycling, fine particle processing, and CO2 capture. The faculty members who interviewed me were very energetic and passionate about their work in this area. As a passionate person myself, I knew I would enjoy working with a group of passionate colleagues. Finally, I like snow sports. I’m looking forward to winter in Houghton already!

What is your primary area of research and what led you to it?

My primary area of research is mineral processing. I was a big fan of minerals and rocks as a child. The shapes and colors of these minerals built by Mother Nature are wonderful. More importantly, mineral processing is closely related to our daily life. Almost all raw materials we use today come from different minerals. Using these minerals in an efficient way is extremely important for the environment and sustainability.

More specifically, my research interests include mineral flotation, solid/liquid separation (dewatering), carbon ore beneficiation, rare earth extraction, and copper concentration. With my mineral processing research I seek to help the mining industry increase sustainability, increase profit, and reduce environmental impact.

Dr. Huang attended ACS Spring 2023: Crossroads of Chemistry, last March in Indianapolis.

What do you consider an important long-term goal for your research?

I want to contribute ways to efficiently use natural mineral resources and improve sustainability. I would also like to dedicate myself to developing the domestic supply chain of critical minerals.

What do you hope to accomplish, as an educator and as a researcher, over the next few years?

My goals are to publish high-quality papers in top-ranked journals, give presentations in national and international conferences, like SME and ACS annual conferences, and write winning proposals to different funding agencies and companies.

“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Dr. Kaiwu Huang’s advice for advice for incoming students at Michigan Tech? His favorite quote from Steve Jobs.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Fishing and skiing

What’s your favorite book, movie, or piece of art?


Any favorite spots on campus, in Houghton, or in the UP?

Bridgeview Park

Lift Bridge and green trees across Portage Waterway
Dr. Huang’s favorite spot, Bridgeview Park, runs along the waterfront in downtown Houghton.

Scholarships for Success: Husky Pathways for Academic Wellness and Success

Adrienne Minerick (ChE) is the PI on a project that has received a $2,500,000 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is titled “S-STEM: Scholarships for Success: Husky PAWS (Pathways for Academic Wellness and Success).”

Richelle Winkler (SS), Briana Bettin (CS) and Michelle Jarvie-Eggart (EF) are co-PIs on this potential six-year project.


This project will contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need at Michigan Technological University.

Michigan Tech is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-focused high-research activity institution with approximately 7000 students, located in the rural upper peninsula of Michigan.

Over its six-year duration, this project will:

  • award four-year scholarships to first-year students
  • award additional finishing scholarships to fourth-year students pursuing an accelerated master’s degree
  • include a summer bridge opportunity
  • create a first-year experience designed to develop self-awareness
  • provide continual career counseling
  • establish alumni mentor connections
  • encourage immersive study abroad
  • provide opportunities for undergraduate research.

Scholarships are targeted to full-time students pursuing bachelor’s degrees and accelerated master’s degrees in applied physics, engineering and computer science.

The overall goal of this project is to increase STEM degree completion of low-income, high-achieving undergraduates with demonstrated financial need.

Read more at the National Science Foundation.

Lei Pan on Battery Minerals and Net-Zero Carbon

Lei Pan in his lab.
Lei Pan

Lei Pan (ChE) was mentioned by Gear Technology in a story about U.S. efforts to develop a  domestic supply chain capacity for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, the manufacturing of which is heavily reliant on critical minerals. Pan is the principal investigator of a $2.5 million research project on carbon storage and extraction of critical minerals from mine tailings at MTU. The research and funding award were the subject of a Michigan Tech News story in January.

The DOE awarded grants to develop rapid carbon mineralization and critical mineral extraction technology to 16 projects nationwide, totaling $39 million. Michigan Tech’s project is the only one in the state of Michigan to receive funding from Mining Innovations for Negative Emissions Resource Recovery (MINER).

Michigan Tech’s project is titled “Energy Reduction and Improved Critical Mineral Recovery from Low-Grade Disseminated Sulfide Deposits and Mine Tailings.” According to principal project investigator Lei Pan, it seeks to permanently and cleanly mineralize and store carbon dioxide. This process should potentially enable the mining industry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Minnesota to achieve net carbon zero while extracting critical minerals from low-grade ores.

This focus on battery minerals has led GM, Ford and Stellantis to partner with a variety of suppliers to support battery production in North America.

Read more at Gear Technology, by Matthew Jaster.

North of 60 Mining News mentioned Michigan Tech’s $2.5 million U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E MINER award for research on carbon storage and extraction of critical minerals from mine tailings. Lei Pan (ChE) is the project’s principal investigator (PI), and David Shonnard and Tim Eisele (both ChE) are co-PIs. The award was covered by Michigan Tech News in January.


Michigan Tech Awarded $2.5 Million to Unlock Net-Zero Emission Mineral Extraction Technologies in Mining Industries

Heldt Group Attending ACS Fall 2023

Researchers in the Heldt Bioseparations Lab will be attending the ACS fall meeting on August 13–18.

Caryn Heldt – “Empty and full AAV capsid charge and hydrophobicity differences measured with single particle AFM”

Caryn Heldt is the James and Lorna Mack Chair in Bioengineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Caryn Heldt – “Virus encapsulation in polypeptide complexes for thermal stable vaccine formulations”

Caryn Heldt – “Expanding the diversity, equity, inclusion, and sense of belonging of graduate students at Michigan Tech”

Vaishali Sharma – “Mechanistic understanding of eco-friendly surfactants for virus inactivation”

Vaishali Sharma is a PhD student in biological sciences.

Seth Kriz – “Scaling down to scale up: Mass transport of viruses in aqueous two-phase systems”

Seth Kriz is a PhD student.

Natalie Nold – “Economics and process monitoring of continuous vaccine production using aqueous two-phase systems”

Natalie Nold is a PhD student.

The meeting will be held in San Francisco with a hybrid format. The 2023 meeting title is Harnessing the Power of Data.

ACS Meetings and Expositions are where chemistry professionals meet to share ideas and advance scientific and technical knowledge.

The Heldt Bioseparations Lab focuses on the science of viral surface interactions and applies it to vaccine manufacturing and purification.

ChE Convocation 2023 Awards Announced

These students, faculty and staff were presented awards on Friday (April 14) at the Department of Chemical Engineering (ChE) Convocation held in the MUB Alumni Lounge.

Bryan Glover, president and CEO of Honeywell UOP—the leading provider of technologies for the global energy and petrochemicals industries—was our keynote speaker. Glover graduated from Michigan Tech in 1986 with a BS in Chemical Engineering and he earned an MBA from the University of Chicago in 2009. In his 36 years with UOP, Glover has held positions across the company, including R&D, technical services and business management.

Congratulations to all!

Chair’s Award for Outstanding Chemical Engineering Senior

This award recognizes a graduating ChE senior for their academic achievement, experiential learning activities and community engagement. This award consists of a certificate and monetary award in the amount of $1,000.

Recipient: Brooke Bates

Excellence in Communication Award

This award acknowledges the critical role that effective communication plays in successful leadership and recognizes a graduating ChE senior for their effective use of communication of the highest standard.

Recipient: Zach Geiger

Professional Ethics Award

This award recognizes a student who has exhibited exemplary ethics and admirable professional conduct during Plant Design and Unit Operations experiences and throughout their academic career at Michigan Tech.

Recipient: Sheridan Waldack

Prevent Accidents With Safety (PAWS) Award

The Prevent Accidents with Safety (PAWS) Undergraduate Lab Safety Program is a comprehensive safety program requiring training, constant vigilance and incident reporting and documentation systems — all with an eye toward critical review and continuous improvement. The PAWS program provides a framework to develop the necessary safety culture within the student community.

Recipients: Lauryn Elsholz, Nicholas Henderson, Emerson Ross, and Nicholas Scott

Dow Chemical Marriott W. Bredekamp Award

This award recognizes outstanding technical skills in the laboratory, outstanding teamwork and professionalism, effective oral and written communication and strong adherence to process safety practices as recognized by your peers and supported by the faculty of the department. This award is in memory of Marriott W. Bredekamp.

Recipients: Brooke Bates, Michael Durbin, Lydia Jackels, and Nick Schiavo

Three students holding awards and a faculty member.
L-R: Brook Bates, Lydia Jackels, and Michael Durbin with Kurt Rickard.

Senior Design Team Awards

John Patton, as chair and faculty member, initiated much of today’s design course content in ChE. He brought his experiences at Exxon to the classroom to provide students with a systematic way to design and analyze a new, large-scale capital project. This award recognizes the student team in CM 4861 that created the best plant design and recommendation for Fictitious Chemical Company. It is given in recognition of the engineering design and creativity, safety and environmental considerations, technical communication skills, and teamwork in the capstone design project.

Finalist Teams

Third Place ($400): Amelia Kramer, Tailyn Klepsa-Orrey, TJ Stachowski, and Steven Markert

Runner-Up ($600): Zach Geiger, Andy Ward, Jordan Rathke, and Kyle Hooper

Winner ($1,000): Caleb Diekema, Josiah Diekema, Riley Smith, and Kade Wirth

Two students holding awards standing on either side of a faculty member.
L-R: Caleb Diekema, Jon Herlevich, Jr., and Riley Smith.

Davis W. Hubbard Outstanding Junior Award

The eligible candidate for this award has completed all their junior-level core chemical engineering courses. Selection is based on GPA for coursework done at Michigan Tech, research engagement and internship/co-op work experience. The award consists of a certificate and monetary award in the amount of $1,000.

Recipient: Mikayla Marshalek

Student with award standing with a faculty member.
L-R: Mikayla Marshalek with Kyle Griffin.

Outstanding Sophomore Award

This award recognizes an outstanding sophomore in chemical engineering who has demonstrated exemplary academic performance in coursework and exhibited excellence in related academic enrichment activities such as research, internship/co-op work experience and Enterprise Program.

Recipient: Margaret Roelant

Student with award standing next to a faculty member.
L-R: Margaret Roeland with Kyle Griffin.

Outstanding New Student Award

This award recognizes an outstanding new student in chemical engineering who has demonstrated exemplary academic performance in coursework and exhibited excellence in related academic enrichment activities such as research, internship/co-op work experience and Enterprise Program.

Recipient: James Hays

Student with award standing next to a faculty member.
L-R: James Hays with Tim Eisele.

Leadership Awards


AIChENathan Summers

CMLCMichael Durbin

CPMJames Staley

OXENathan Summers

SABRiley Smith

AEELibby Umlor

Green Campus: Ray Buenzli

Finally, ChE students voted on these categories to honor our outstanding department employees!

  • Teacher of the Year: Kyle Griffin
  • Research Mentor of the Year: Timothy Eisele
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year: John Szczap
  • Undergraduate Grader of the Year (tie): Michael Johnson and Riley Smith
  • Staff Making a Difference: Katie Torrey
  • Peer Mentor and Coach of the Year: Riley Smith
Student standing next to a faculty member with an award.
L-R: Student presenting an award to Tim Eisele.
Student standing next to a faculty member with an award.
L-R: Kyle Griffin accepting an award from a student.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Sarvada Chipkar

Sarvada Chipkar
Sarvada Chipkar

PhD candidate Sarvada Chipkar (chemical engineering) was featured by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in a Q&A spotlighting her research in the lab of Rebecca Ong (ChE).

“Today we spoke to Sarvada Chipkar, a PhD candidate in Ong Research Laboratory at Michigan Technological University. Sarvada is from Mumbai, India and received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Mumbai in 2017. She speaks on the power of positivity and passion when it comes to taking a leap.”

Read more at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, by Madelyn Anderson.

Michigan Tech and Eagle Mine Partner for EV Battery Recycling Innovation and Climate Sustainability

Lei Pan standing near equipment in the lab
Lei Pan

11/29/2022—On Nov. 16, the Biden Administration announced a $74 million funding package to advance domestic battery recycling and reuse that will strengthen the nation’s battery supply chain. Michigan Technological University and Eagle Mine are co-recipients of part of this funding. $8.1 million will be used to prove new research technologies that develop sustainable processes to supply critical minerals for electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing.

An additional $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy grant program was also awarded to Michigan Tech and Eagle Mine, which will enable the University to study carbon dioxide mineralization opportunities in Eagle Mine’s tailings facility. The money will be used to develop new technologies that enable accelerated carbon mineralization using mine tailing minerals.

“Eagle Mine is proud to partner with Michigan Tech and support sustainable technologies that will create critical mineral pathways for future demand,” said Darby Stacey, managing director of Eagle Mine. “Eagle Mine is the only nickel mine in the United States, and the availability of our experience and use of our resources, waste streams and nickel concentrates are essential to understanding the societal impact of the nation’s transportation needs.”

“The state of Michigan is the home to the automotive industry, nickel mining industry and future lithium-ion battery industry in this nation,” said Lei Pan, associate professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Tech and principal investigator of both funded projects. “Addressing both the supply of critical minerals and reprocessing and reuse of mine tailings is critical to advance sustainability in the mining industry.”

Read more at Michigan Tech News.


Supplying Refined Battery Materials into the United States Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain by Synergizing Lithium-ion Battery Recycling with Mine Waste Reclamation

APPLICANT: Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI)

Federal Cost Share: $8,137,783
Recipient Cost Share: $2,034,483
Supply Chain Segment: Recycling

Project Description

This project addresses several economic and technical challenges in the lithium-ion battery recycling industry, including, 1) low payable metals, 2) difficulty in achieving specifications for battery-grade lithium from mixed secondary feedstock, 3) high operational costs and environmental impact of the state-of-the-art recycling practices. The project will develop and demonstrate an innovative synergized battery recycling and metal refining technology and accelerate its commercialization to achieve product demonstration and process validation. The pilot-scale facility (Q3 2023 start) aims to process 5-20 kilowatt hour (kWh) of battery cells and modules per day, producing both intermediate lithium and nickel products as well as battery-grade lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) and nickel
sulfate (NiSO4).

The project team consists of engineers and experts in subject matter, commercialization, permitting, and investor/community engagement to ensure the success of this project with the end goal of enabling commercialization of these technologies to the benefit of the electric vehicle Li-ion battery supply chain in the United States. Potential project impacts include:

  • Reducing total energy use and total greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by at least 25% per nickel unit produced compared to the state-of-the-art recycling practice.
  • Establishing a profitable U.S. battery recycling business regardless of the types of cathode chemistry.
  • Supplying additional nickel and cobalt minerals from unconventional resources. If further successful, an additional 56 million lbs. of nickel and 2 million lbs. of cobalt from Eagle’s Humboldt Tailing Disposal Facility (HTDF) will be recoverable.

Support from DOE will directly impact the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, primarily (but not limited to) the counties of Houghton and Marquette. The support from DOE is critical to help MTU move from lab to pilot-scale and result in regional workforce and job creation through Nion Metals, a MTU spin-off. MTU will be working with our partner, Michigan Works, to help identify, recruit and train new employees.


Shonnard, Handler, and Chaudhari on the Circular Economy for PETs

David Shonnard
David Shonnard
Robert Handler
Robert Handler
Utkarsh Chaudhari
Utkarsh Chaudhari

David Shonnard, Robert Handler, and graduate student Utkarsh Chaudhari (chemical engineering) were mentioned by Waste Today Magazine in “Gauging the flows,” a story about a report they co-authored (DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.2c04004) that gauges whether a circular economy is achievable for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyolefin polymers in the U.S.

The report, published by ACS Publications, provides material flow and life cycle assessment data sets for these materials while also estimating total supply chain greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption.

The report provides material flow and life cycle assessment data sets for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyolefin polymers in the U.S. while also estimating total supply chain greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption. Polyolefins [DT1] researched include high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE).

Shonnard says phase one findings show where improvements need to be made to achieve a circular economy for plastics.

“We were able to develop a systems analysis of the entire U.S. plastics supply chain for these plastics,” he says.

Read more at Waste Today Magazine, by Megan Smalley.


Material Flow Analysis and Life Cycle Assessment of Polyethylene Terephthalate and Polyolefin Plastics Supply Chains in the United States

Utkarsh S. Chaudhari, Anne T. Johnson, Barbara K. Reck, Robert M Handler, Vicki S. Thompson, Damon S. Hartley, Wendy Young, David Watkins, and David Shonnard

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2022, 10, 39, 13145–13155
Publication Date:September 22, 2022
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