Richard A. Cairncross, Senior Research Engineer

Associate Professor
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering,
Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Senior Research Engineer
Environmental Fuel Research, LLC
859 N Camac St
Philadelphia, PA 19123


Professor Cairncross has been on the faculty in the Chemical Engineering Department at Drexel University since 1997. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Rochester in 1989 and his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1994. He has also been a Postdoctoral Fellow at Sandia National Laboratories (1994-1995), a visiting scientist at IBM (1997) and a visiting professor at the University of Delaware (1995-1997), University of Minnesota (2004-2005) and at the University of El Salvador (2010).
Professor Cairncross leads research projects on Biofuels, Bio-based polymers, diffusion in polymers, transport phenomena, numerical modeling, finite element methods, biodiesel production, and sustainable development. He has received numerous awards, but the awards most relevant for this project are:
• Fulbright Lectureship on Renewable Energy, University of El Salvador (2010)
• EPA P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) Phase II Award for a Novel Reactor for Production of Biodiesel from High-Free-Fatty-Acid Oils (2008) (SU 834015 – basis for this proposed project)
For six years, Professor Cairncross was the lead Instructor for the Senior Design Course Sequence in Chemical & Biological Engineering and advised several student teams who performed feasibility studies of biodiesel production processes. He also regularly teaches senior elective courses on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Engineering.

Selected Publications and Patents

‘Esterification of Free-Fatty-Acids to Biodiesel in a Bubble Column Reactor,’ C.J. Stacy, C.A. Melick, and R.A. Cairncross, Fuel Processing Technology, 124 (2014) 70-77.

‘Nanofiber Cathode Catalyst Layer Model for a Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell,’ D. Dever, R.A. Cairncross, Y.A. Elabd, accepted for publication in Journal of Fuel Cell Science and Technology, July 2013.
‘Diseño de un Reactor para la Producción de Biodiesel de los Ácidos Grasos’, C.A. Melick, M. Mohammed, and R.A. Cairncross, proceedings of Congreso Latinoamericano de Estudiantes de Ingeniería Química XV, San Salvador, El Salvador (2009)

‘Effect of Biomass Species and Plant Size on Cellulosic Ethanol: A Comparative Process and Economic Analysis,’ H.-J. Huang, D.R. Petrolia, S. Ramaswamy, A.-D. Waleed, U. Tschirner, & R.A. Cairncross, Biomass and Bioenergy, (2009) 33 (2) 234-246.

Role in SBIR Project

Professor Cairncross led development of the bubble column reactor which is a core technology for converting high-FFA waste greases into biodiesel. He has worked with over 30 undergraduate students on research and design projects related to waste grease to biofuel projects. He is currently the research advisor for Megan Hums (PI on this proposal). Professor Cairncross is the PI of the subaward to Drexel University and will supervise Drexel students on this project. The potential conflict of interest of Dr. Cairncross being both the PI of the subaward and a partner in the company will be managed by monthly meetings with Professor Giuseppe Palmese (head of Chemical Engineering Department at Drexel) to review the research and ensure appropriate supervision of the student working on the project. In Environmental Fuel Research LLC, Professor Cairncross is the Senior Research Engineer in charge of overseeing the research projects for evaluating process alternatives.