- Nanostructured materials can make water processing and energy production more sustainable, but are often inadequately characterized and poorly understood. As a result, the process of improving material design and performance is limited to trial-and-error.
- The Environmental Protection Agency estimates up to $450 billion needs to be invested in wastewater infrastructure and up to $475 billion in drinking water infrastructure, including new and upgraded treatment plants with advanced technology (including membranes) that can treat alternative water sources, including salt, reused and polluted water.
- The Department of Energy estimates gross U.S. revenues from the automotive fuel cell industry alone are predicted to reach upwards of $80 billion a year by 2030, with the addition of more than 900,000 new jobs. Methane-based fuel cells could eliminate U.S. dependence on oil and coal.
- Nanoparticles and membranes are already used in commercial water treatment and energy technologies and undergo continual development; design based on structure-property-performance relationships will accelerate technology from the research and development stage to commercial products.
- Customers and stakeholders include 3M Fuel Cell Components Program, Proton OnSite, Hydration Technology Innovations LLC, Trussell Technologies, Inc., multiple water utilities, Bureau of Reclamation, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Colorado School of Mines, Arizona State University and University of Connecticut.
Our nanoparticle synthesis focuses on wet chemistry methods, with a particular emphasis on aqueous-based synthesis techniques and metallic nanoparticles. Iron and other metal core-shell nanoparticles are synthesized with a shell of either a native oxide or an additional metal, such as nickel or palladium. Nanoparticle-enhanced polymer composite membranes are synthesized through phase inversion, where the particles are synthesized either ex situ and dispersed in the membrane casting solution or in situ within the casting solution or the cast membrane. Metallic nanoparticles are known to react with and degrade a wide variety of water contaminants and are also used as catalysts for energy applications such as fuel oxidation, energy storage, energy conversion and electrolysis. Iron is an increasing interest as industry seeks low-cost alternatives to catalysts such as platinum or palladium. In most commercial technologies, nanoparticles are immobilized on or within a support structure to control nanoparticle location, reactivity, life time and bulk material properties. As a result, we characterize nanoparticles alone and within a composite structure to understand (1) how synthesis parameters affect nanoparticle reactivity, and (2) how nanoparticles embedded in a composite structure affect nanoparticle and bulk material properties and performance. Properties including size, shape, surface functionalization and chemical composition are thought to affect nanoparticle reactivity. When embedded in a membrane or other support structure, these properties will also affect the resulting composite material. To connect material properties to performance, characterization focuses on organic-inorganic interfaces, chemical composition, material reliability, material lifetime and performance, and phenomena occurring at the micro- and nanoscale.