NYU Tandon Sustainable Energy Researcher Named a Top Young Latin American Innovator by MIT Technology Review

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Miguel Modestino Honored for Developing Solar and Biomass Alternatives to Carbon-Based Fuel for Chemical Manufacturing

Professor Miguel Modestino headshot

BROOKLYN, New York—Miguel Modestino, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, has been named among the MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition “Innovators Under 35.”  The list honors 35 leading young researchers from Central and South America.

A native of Venezuela, Modestino, 31, is recognized for his work integrating solar processes into the chemical industry, replacing fossil fuel-intensive practices with sustainable methods that rely on biomass feedstocks and solar energy. Modestino’s primary focus is the textile industry; specifically, he is working to revolutionize the process of producing nylon used for fabrics and industrial components — a $20 billion per-year market. 

An estimated 6 million tons of petrochemical-based nylon is produced worldwide each year in a process that generates significant emissions of carbon dioxide. Modestino’s research is paving a path toward sustainable nylon production by harnessing energy from sunlight to fuel the electrochemical and thermochemical reactions necessary to transform plant waste into the precursor materials needed to produce the material. Modestino recently demonstrated in his laboratory a prototype of a solar electrochemical reactor capable of producing adiponitrile from acrylonitrile, a critical early step in nylon production.

“We can redefine every step of this process to reduce the environmental impact of nylon production without sacrificing the end product,” said Modestino. “By swapping fossil fuel-based feedstocks for plant-based ones and using solar power to drive the chemical reactions, we can bring significant improvements in this industry and create a model for sustainability in other aspects of the chemical industry.”

Modestino emphasizes that while these technologies are still early stage, he and his collaborators are taking a pragmatic approach to technology development and potential commercialization. “We’re working within the infrastructure that already exists in chemical plants,” he said. “It’s much easier to design a technology that can be integrated into an existing nylon manufacturing plant — it may mean the difference between having a real impact on this industry in 5 years instead of 20.”

Modestino joined the NYU Tandon faculty in 2017, after completing his postdoctoral fellowship at École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL). He was recently awarded the Global Change Award from the H & M Foundation in recognition of his efforts to create sustainable textiles.

In addition to being featured in the online magazine published with partner Opinno, winners of the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 in Latin America will attend a summit in Mexico City in November, joining 200 innovators from more than a dozen countries in the region to exchange ideas and promote collaboration.

Note: Photos available at http://dam.engineering.nyu.edu/?c=1990&k=cbba486418

About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering
The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, the country’s largest private research university, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit engineering.nyu.edu.