By: Sasha Altman

Information provided by Bradie S. Crandall

Bradie S Crandall is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Delaware in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering whom I recently interviewed. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. His research is based on the electrification of the chemical industry by taking pollutants and upgrading them into valuable chemicals using green electricity. Put simply: The goal is to make chemicals that we would normally derive from oil and natural gas using CO₂, water, and renewable electricity. Thus, society can now produce the chemicals it needs without relying on fossil fuels and there is also an economic incentive to capture CO₂ emissions.

Some of the most promising chemicals Bradie can currently make from CO₂ are ethylene (used for producing plastics), acetate/acetic acid (can be used for food production), formate/formic acid (used for pharmaceuticals, flavorings, and perfumes), and ethanol (used for fuel and to drink).

The biggest obstacle regarding Bradie’s research is the economic sector. Bradie had likened the strength of a project in regards to addressing climate change to a three-legged stool whose legs consist of technology, economics, and policy. With the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, U.S. climate policy has finally caught up with technology. In particular, this bill included tax incentives for carbon capture, which help reduce the cost of captured CO₂ put into the reactors Bradie builds. It is now easier and more cost-effective to extract CO₂ and feed it to these reactors to be upgraded. Thus, the economic leg of the three-legged stool is strengthening.

Robust policies like those found in the Inflation Reduction Act are critical to subsidize early-stage technologies. These subsidies help the economy keep up with the fast pace of technological advancements in research.

Two of the most critical chemical elements found in the petrochemical industry are carbon and hydrogen. Bradie predicted that the predominant carbon source in the U.S. chemical industry could switch from natural gas (CH₄) to carbon dioxide (CO₂) within his lifetime. While green hydrogen (H₂) could be sourced sustainably from water (H₂O) using electrochemistry instead of natural gas in the chemical industry.

Bradie is attempting to rebuild the chemical industry from the ground up using green feedstocks and renewable energy in place of fossil fuels. He is striving for net zero emissions in the chemical industrial sector.

Upon entering the University of Delaware to pursue a Ph.D., Bradie found an advisor, Dr. Feng Jiao, who helped him find a direction for his research. Bradie stated that “he pushed me to never settle for anything but the best in both research and outside of the lab” and not to waste time on trivial pursuits. Bradie also said that working with Dr. Jiao has modified his entire thinking toward this type of work (research). Dr. Jiao secures funding for the research but leaves it up to his students to decide how they spend their time on a daily basis.

Bradie’s short-term career goal is to get his Ph.D. and then embark on a policy fellowship program for two years in Washington, DC. He intends to use this as a transition period between academic research and policy. With this experience and a Ph.D. under his belt, Bradie’s ultimate goal is to work for congress or the White House as a science advisor on climate and energy policy.


Bradie S. Crandall, New DENIN Fellow, Aims to Turn Nitrate Pollution into Fertilizer