Georgian Court University chemistry professor Prasad Lakkaraju, Ph.D. received his fourth patent this fall, but he’s quick to note it’s not the work of one inventor, or even the three whose names appear on U.S. Patent 11,131,028 B2. “Scientific research these days is highly collaborative, because you need people who are specialists in different areas,” he said.
Dr. Lakkaraju shares credit for the patented work, “Method and System for Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Employing a Gas Diffusion Electrode,” with Jerry J. Kaczur, a chemical engineer, and Kyle Teamey, an investor/entrepreneur with an environmental engineering background. Together, they’ve received the patent—and thus, intellectual property protection—for an innovative, solar-based approach to converting carbon dioxide into chemicals that are less harmful to the environment.
The team was issued the patent in a relatively short time—about two years from the filing date, when the often-complex process can take up several years. The system’s benchmark of success, however, Dr. Lakkaraju says, will come when it changes the fundamental way we live. Similar to the emergence of cars powered by electricity rather than gasoline, innovations such as this one from his team aim to make renewable energy systems commonplace in homes and commercial buildings rather than the exception.
Creating a Smaller Carbon Footprint
Dr. Lakkaraju began teaching at Georgian Court in 1995 and became a professor in 2003 when, through sabbatical, he also started a collaboration with Princeton University professors that continues today. (His most recent sabbatical, in Spring 2021, was at Princeton’s Bocarsly Lab.) Like many scientists, he was motivated to contribute to his field and to society. “I thought, ‘Even if I make a smaller contribution, it’s going to be a lasting one that is highly useful.’”
His concern about climate change—as evidenced by an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide that now exceeds 400 parts per million, the earth and oceans’ rising temperatures, shrinking ice sheets, retreating glaciers, extreme weather events, and more—led to what he now considers his passion: Finding ways to transform carbon dioxide into more earth-friendly chemicals using solar power.
With three more patents in progress, Dr. Lakkaraju’s work continues. True to his belief in collaboration, Georgian Court’s 2016 recipient of the Virginia Graham ’31 Award for Teaching Excellence includes his students. He’s involved about 20 students in his research, included two then-undergraduates as co-authors on a published paper, who then presented at a national convention. The collaborative spirit extends geographically, as well. Two examples—Dr. Lakkaraju has collaborated with professor Victor Batista at Yale University and professor Kandalam Ramanujachary at Rowan University.
“Climate change is a complex problem that needs the diversity of thought and expertise to address,” he says. “It’s by being inclusive and encouraging every person to contribute in his or her own way that we will make progress and better protect our earth.”
Story contributed by freelance writer Sheila Noonan.