Research Thrusts

Research Areas by Thrust

CISTAR’s overarching goal is to provide the technological innovation and diverse highly-trained workforce needed to realize the potential of light hydrocarbons as a lower carbon-footprint “bridge” to a future sustainable economy. CISTAR’s research is organized into Thrust areas which include catalysis, separations, life-cycle analysis, environmental impact, and systems-level decarbonization.

Jason Hicks headshot

Thrust 1: Dehydrogenation

thrust Lead: Jason Hicks, University of Notre dame 

CISTAR’s Thrust 1 researchers are pursuing new alkane dehydrogenation strategies to produce olefins as platform chemicals for the production of longer chain fuels or liquid chemicals. Thrust 1 focuses on the discovery of new, stable active phases, engineering stable and regenerable catalysts, and developing non-catalytic, thermal dehydrogenation approaches. Through the combination of new synthesis strategies, novel characterization techniques, experimental kinetic evaluations, and computational modeling, Thrust 1 researchers are advancing the knowledge gap on dehydrogenation processes.

Linda Broadbelt headshot

Thrust 2: Oligomerization

thrust Lead: Raj gounder, Purdue university

Thrust 2 researchers are developing new catalytic strategies to convert the olefins produced in Thrust 1 (alkane dehydrogenation) to higher molecular weight products that can be transported as a liquid and used as transportation fuels or chemicals. The Thrust 2 team focuses on novel synthesis strategies to control catalyst material properties and evaluations and predictions of reactivity to address knowledge gaps regarding control of the product distribution, catalyst lifetime, and operation at conditions compatible with the overall vision for the integrated CISTAR process.

Tobin Marks headshot

Thrust 3: C1 activiation

Thrust Lead: Tobin Marks, Northwestern University

Thrust 3 pursues fundamental scientific knowledge regarding established and “out of the box” OCM (oxidative coupling of methane)/AOCM (alternative oxidative coupling of methane) reaction mechanisms, and active site structures (Fundamental Plane) to develop new methane conversion technologies (Enabling Plane) for integration into the overall CISTAR flowsheets (Systems Plane). Thrust 3 is addressing gaps in the current technology by pursuing new AOCM processes both experimentally and through quantum chemical calculations. In doing so, Thrust 3 researchers aim to break through historical yield “walls” for methane to ethylene conversion processes.

Rakesh Agrawal headshot

Thrust 4: Process Life Cycle Analysis and Environmental Impact

Thrust lead: Rakesh Agrawal, PUrdue university

Thrust 4 performs process synthesis and design to create innovative concepts for overall CISTAR process flowsheets. The new process configurations are created with the overall goal of generating simple and yet efficient process configurations that would be appropriate at varying design scales from small plants at the wellhead to regional gas plants. Thrust 4 researchers are developing new process configurations to create simple and yet efficient process configurations with a minimal environmental footprint. They are also exploring synthesis of CISTAR processes through integration with renewable sources of matter and energy.

Tom Degnan headshot

Technology Modules 

Lead: Thomas Degnan, University of notre dame

Thrust 5 aims to demonstrate the continuous operation of an integrated catalytic conversion and separation process for upgrading light alkanes to fuels and chemicals. The testing capabilities of Thrust 5 – CISTAR's technology modules – are essential to the thorough evaluation of promising materials and process concepts that emerge in other Thrusts. Emphasis is placed on evaluations that mimic actual industrial conditions. Thrust 5 provides technical support and organizational structure to conduct these evaluations.

Ruilan Guo headshot

thrust 6: Membrane separations

Thrust lead: Ruilan Guo, University of notre dame

Thrust 6 pursues a wide range of membrane materials (polymer, ceramics/metal, and facilitated transport membranes) and pilot-scale membrane fabrication through five core research projects, each exploiting a unique motif and featuring specific membrane properties to meet the CISTAR separation needs under demanding operating conditions. In the past four years, Thrust 6 researchers have found that nearly all CISTAR membranes meet or exceed the technical separation targets in single component permeation tests under ambient conditions.

Jennifer Dunn headshot

Thrust 7: Systems-level decarbonization and analysis for fuel and chemicals


This thrust explores the role of fuels and chemicals that can be made from methane and NGLs in leading the way towards decarbonized fuels and chemicals.  Methane and NGLs are present-day feedstocks that can derisk pathways to lower-carbon fuels and chemicals of the future produced from CO2, H2, or renewable CH4.   

Research in the thrust centers around fuel and chemical systems that could emerge based on four disrupters: transportation electrification, plastics recycling, the decarbonizing grid, and the push to decarbonize liquid fuels.  Thrust 7 examines how CISTAR fuels and chemicals can help the U.S. adjust to these trends and the role that CH4 and NGLs can play in this while serving as a bridge to lower carbon fuels and chemical production. 

Fernando Garzon headshot

Testbed 1: Aromatics Platform

Testbed Lead: Fernando Garzon, University of New Mexico 

Testbed 1 focuses on the conversion of natural gas to aromatics.

Brennecke headshot

testbed 2: Ethylene Platform

Testbed Lead: Joan brennecke, university of Texas Austin 

Testbed 2 addresses processes that require ethylene en route to the desired products.

Justin Notestein headshot

testbed 3: Propylene platform

Testbed Lead: Justin Notestein, Northwestern university

Testbed 3 includes chemicals and fuels derived from propylene intermediates.

The systems-level testbeds are process models that examine how sets of modular technologies developed within CISTAR can be used to efficiently produce chemicals and fuels from natural gas. Each of the three testbeds focuses on a critical chemical intermediate.