Daniela Blanco, a PhD candidate at New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering, is committed to creating positive change in the chemical industry. She works on electrochemical processes, redesigning them to maximize their efficiency and lower their cost. Daniela says sustainability methods are often seen as “more expensive” or “too difficult,” so she dedicates her research to shifting this paradigm and finding feasible solutions for renewable energy integration in chemical reactions.
When Daniela was four years old she told her mother that she wanted to be a scientist. Her mother made many sacrifices so that Daniela could attend the best ranked scientific high school in her home country, Venezuela. While at this school, Daniela had the opportunity to attend the International Chemistry Olympiads, an annual competition among high school students. This experience was a turning point in her life as she developed a passion for solving problems, especially problems prevalent in Venezuela—a country with one of the largest fossil fuel industries in the world. Daniela grew curious about renewable energy technologies as an alternative to the fossil fuel industry. She decided to study chemical engineering at Venezuela’s Universidad Simón Bolívar, and went on to complete her master’s degree in chemical engineering at NYU. Daniela is currently pursuing her PhD in chemical engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
Nylon manufacturing is one of the largest textile pollutants worldwide. Daniela invented a chemical reactor that uses electricity rather than fossil fuel-derived heat to produce nylon, as well as other materials. She co-founded Sunthetics, a startup that uses her reactors to create greener chemical processes. Daniela focuses on optimizing the company’s technology and acts as the entrepreneurial co-leader. She also invented an optimized system for clean energy storage and hydrogen production, which could be used in situations such as natural disasters when backup power is needed. Daniela received the 2020 $15,000 “Use it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her portfolio of work related to clean energy and sustainability.
Daniela’s passion for sustainable practices led her to mentor multiple undergraduate students, helping them to design cleaner production techniques of nylon intermediates. She has encouraged the students to make conscious career decisions that advocate for a sustainable future. Daniela also mentored young people when she was in college in Venezuela by helping high school students to prepare for their SATs and coaching other Venezuelan undergraduate students in leadership skills.
Daniela has received numerous awards including the 2019 Brightest Artificial Intelligence Mind, the 2019 Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2019 United States Student Entrepreneur of the Year, and the 2018 New York Student Entrepreneur of the Year. She is the co-author on several publications, a co-inventor in three patents, and has been invited to present at various panels and summits over the past three years. Daniela continually works towards a more sustainable chemical industry that implements safe processes and reduces emissions.