By Cristina D’Imperio
In 2013, the University of Pittsburgh and the Lubrizol Corporation began a partnership to foster the future of chemistry and engineering science.
The Lubrizol Corporation, founded in 1928, has 8,800 employees and more than 100 facilities worldwide. The company focuses on vehicle needs, including energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, as well as products that facilitate safe drinking water and materials that are used in healthcare, wellness-related applications, and medical, beauty, and home care.
In an article for the Swanson School of Engineering, Steven R. Little, PhD, McGowan faculty, notes, “When we began this partnership [with Lubrizol], our faculty saw it as an opportunity to apply their expertise to industry and find solutions for projects that were relatively small but impactful.”
Dr. Little, who is a Distinguished Professor and Department Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt continues, “Additionally, it presented an opportunity to engage students in industry research and ideation. As our alliance strengthened, however, this synergy and excitement expanded to where we were able to help Lubrizol create game-changing industry processes and innovations.”
A large component of the alliance between Pitt and Lubrizol is faculty lab research. Among other initiatives, faculty and students at the Swanson School have developed systems that have allowed Lubrizol to take a more sustainable approach to manufacturing, including a circular economy where processes are streamlined, waste is reduced, and a product can be reused, recycled, or repurposed.
Another important component of the alliance is training the next generation of chemical engineers.
“Industries often evolve through innovation or attrition, and at Lubrizol we believe innovation is most successful when fostering the future of chemistry and science and creating healthy talent pathways,” says Glenn Cormack, Lubrizol’s Global Process Innovation Manager and Technical Fellow. “By using the knowledge gained in labs and creating new courses that give students new paths into research, we help to develop a more holistic chemical engineer.”
Part of becoming a more holistic chemical engineer is focusing not just on the “quality of the chemistry,” but on quality of life. The alliance between Pitt and Lubrizol is additionally focused on research and growth in medical polymers, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals.
“Both chemistry and pharmacology are evolving from an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach to manufacturing and treatment to a more ‘quality by design’ ethos,” Dr. Little explains. “Today, we have a greater understanding of particle design and function as well as microfluidic systems. For example, rather than treating conditions from tooth decay to eye diseases and cancer by flooding the body with medication, we can design particles that are stimulus responsive and go into the body and treat one area or organ.”
Sanjeev Shroff, PhD, McGowan faculty and Interim U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering, notes, “One of the greatest attributes that has grown out of this alliance is the excitement between our faculty and Lubrizol scientists when they discover that solving a relatively small problem results in a greater innovation.”
“The other benefit,” Dr. Shroff continues, “is that it has provided the template for the Swanson School and Pitt to develop similar partnerships in other departments which are also bearing fruit. I look forward to seeing what the next decade may bring.”
The original four-year, $1.4 million alliance received a three-year, $1 million renewal from Lubrizol in 2022. In the past decade, the alliance has yielded a multitude of advancements in manufacturing processes and sustainability efforts, as well as $9 million in external funding and support for nearly 30 graduate and postdoctoral students.
This article was largely sourced from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Virtual Newsroom, which is found here.
Read more on the alliance extension here.
Image: Dr. Little discusses his research during a Lubrizol tour of Pitt.