September 10, 2018
Decades ago, oilmen had little interest in natural gas, the byproduct of crude oil extracted from the earth. So, they burned it off, like so many lit torches atop Texas’s oil fields. Jim Miller’s grandfather recalls reading the evening paper by their light. Miller, too, recalls living in their shadows. Now he’s living in the Valley of the Sun, working to develop a different kind of energy industry.
The native Texan says he wanted to be a chemical engineer because the successful people he knew as a child either worked in chemical plants or they worked for NASA. “That was it,” he says.
But years later, he found himself working not in a chemical plant nor at NASA but instead thinking up ways to create and harness alternative energy — energy gleaned not from fossil fuels but from renewable sources.
He has also worked on radioactive waste cleanup, catalysis, desalination and automobile exhaust treatment, all while serving as a research scientist at Sandia National Laboratories.
Miller is a chemical engineer by training. He is also a recent arrival at ASU LightWorks, where he once again will be thinking up ways to create and harness alternative energy — using sunlight, of course. “Our focus is solar thermal chemistry,” says Miller. “The idea is to make a solar fuel.”
Photo: Jim Miller, second from right, with colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories and the CR5 thermochemical reactor. Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories