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UNA Professor Wins Department of Energy Grant

Aug. 12, 2019



Michelle Eubanks, UNA, at meubanks@una.edu, 256-606-2033 or 256-765-4392 

FLORENCE, AL – Dr. Amanda Hofacker Coffman, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Hygiene, along with a select group of 10 academicians from Alabama, have received a grant from the United States Department of Energy to research in the field of ionic liquids. 

The $2.7 million grant will be disbursed over two years, and each scientist submitted a budget for his or her portion of the research. Dr. Hofacker Coffman was asked to participate in the research, and it was something she said she was eager to do in order to further her work as well as collaborate with the team of scientists from the state. 

“It’s a great opportunity to get to do this, and it’s also an opportunity for UNA and our undergraduate students be a part of the work as one component of the grant is the focus on the development of younger faculty,” she said. 

Her role in the research is based on her “research interest in synthesis and designing molecules that have intermolecular interactions, or noncovalent interactions, which come about with these liquids,” she said. 

Ionic liquids are salts in a liquid state, and they’re often referred to as solvents of the future, or “designer solvents,” because of their potential to replace environmentally unfriendly liquids used to dissolve other substances. 

Among those whom she will be working alongside is UNA alumna Dr. Jim Davis, a chemistry professor at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. The monies from the grant has the potential to have a positive effect on the planet’s energy use, he said. 

“Much of the energy we presently use is for separating chemical compounds, such as with refining, which uses enormous energy,” Davis said. “We hope that, but using ionic liquids, we can do it without so much energy expenditure.” 

The energy expenditure is a key feature of Dr. Hofacker Coffman’s work. 

“We’re looking at the synthesis of small organic molecules and using ionic liquids as a solvent and decreasing energy consumption in industrial compounds. They’re less volatile and safer because they’re non-flammable,” she said. “If we’re able to show how they react in ionic liquids and decrease the temperatures, it would decrease the costs associated with their production and the environmental output used in the synthesis of the molecules on an industrial scale.” 

Work on the research has begun at campuses throughout Alabama, including UNA, USA, the University of Alabama, and Tuskegee University. Hofacker Coffman said she is in the process of hiring undergraduate research assistants. 

About The University of North Alabama 

The University of North Alabama is an accredited, comprehensive regional state university offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs through the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Human Sciences, and the Anderson College of Nursing and Health Professions. Occupying a 130-acre campus in a residential section of Florence, Alabama, UNA is located within a four-city area that also includes Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia. UNA Athletics, a renowned collegiate athletics program with seven (7) Division II National Championships, is now a proud member of the NCAA Division I’s ASUN Big South Conference. The University of North Alabama is an equal opportunity institution and does not discriminate in the admission policy on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, age, or national origin. For more: www.una.edu and www.una.edu/unaworks/