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Professors Abolhasani, Beisel, Li and Neal Receive Entrepreneurial Funding

Professors Milad Abolhasani, Chase Beisel, Fanxing Li and Luke Neal have received funding that enables them to advance some of their research projects towards commercialization.

Professor Milad Abolhasani
Prof. Milad Abolhasani

Prof. Abolhasani received a grant through the University of North Carolina’s Research Opportunities Initiative (UNC ROI).

UNC ROI grants are funded by the North Carolina General Assembly “to promote innovative and potentially game-changing research projects within the UNC System.” Prof. Abolhasani’s grant is worth nearly $1.5 million and will be paid out in three portions during fiscal years 2021, 2022 and 2023.

The project, “Nanocrystal Factory: Advanced Manufacturing of Quantum Dot Inks for Next-Generation Solution-Processed Photonic Devices,” seeks to develop an artificial intelligence-guided (nano)material synthesis platform for accelerated, on-demand manufacturing of quantum dot inks. The inks are considered high-priority specialty chemicals with direct implications on strategic economic sectors of the state of North Carolina, including those in energy, defense, and agriculture.

Profs. Beisel, Li and Neal received funding from the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF). The CIF provides seed funding to a select few NC State research projects each year that have promising potential for market success. The goal is “to help the research bridge the critical gap between public and private funding, ultimately creating products and technology that aim to tackle today’s most pressing problems.”

Profs. Biesel and Gavin Williams, of the Department of Chemistry and Chemistry graduate assistant Zhongtian Zhang have created a new type of CRISPR gene editing technology, Sery-CRISPR. Sery-CRISPR is “a novel Type III platform” that has unique applications, including rapidly editing microbial genomes to produce drugs and other therapies.

Williams likens Sery-CRISPR to a “Swiss Army knife” because it could have cutting abilities similar to those of both Type I and Type II CRISPR platforms, and says it could be faster and easier to use compared to current technology. And as a Type III platform, Sery-CRISPR is not subject to the intellectual-property disputes surrounding Type II platforms. CIF support will be used to gain a better understanding of Sery-CRISPR and to develop its applications in gene-editing.

Prof. Beisel is currently on a leave of absence at The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany.

Professor Fanxing Li
Prof. Fanxing Li
Prof. Luke Neal

Prof. Li and assistant research professor Neal have developed a new technology that converts distributed ethane into synthetic gasoline, which can be easily transported out of production sites.

Ethane is a major byproduct of fracked shale gas, an increasingly popular form of natural gas. Up to 20% of a typical well’s output is gaseous ethane. Due to limited transportation capacity, about 210 million barrels of ethane are flared each year. Flaring wastes the ethane and creates carbon pollution that contributes to global warming.

The ethane can be converted to ethylene for plastics manufacturing, but the volume of ethane each well produces is often not worth the costs to transport it from typically remote production sites to centralized conversion plants. Their technology can fit on the bed of an 18-wheeler, and the end product is close in composition to petroleum-based gasoline. CIF support will be used to validate the ethane conversion in a large-scale microchannel reactor, as required by industry.

Congratulations to Profs. Abolhasani, Beisel, Li and Neal for these confirmations of your outstanding research accomplishments!