Nanotechnology Applied to Power Plant Emission

Since 1990, Survey staff members have been involved in developing and evaluating energy and environmental applications of carbon-based materials such as activated carbon and activated carbon fiber. In 2001, with a grant from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and collaboration with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a new project was initiated to explore the energy and environmental applications of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs). This research provided several major contributions to the understanding of these emerging carbon-based materials as adsorbents. The adsorptive characteristic of SWNT is of interest because this material could potentially be used to store hydrogen in future hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

First, scientists demonstrated that physical structure and adsorption properties of some as-produced SWNTs are not thermodynamically stable and change upon aging. Second, both by experiments and molecular simulations, the contributions of various sites of SWNT were shown to be boundless for gas adsorption. Third, scientists identified the mechanism of adsorption of mixture of water and several organic vapors on SWNTs. Fourth, the adsorptive properties of SWNTs were compared with those of activated carbon fibers for removal of environmentally relevant organic compounds from gas streams. Results from this research were published in several articles in highly referenced journals: three in Carbon, one in Langmuir, and one in Journal of Physical Chemistry B, and also were presented in more than 10 national and international conferences. The adsorptive characteristic of SWNT is of interest because this material could potentially be used to store hydrogen in future hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

The activities of the Survey and University in this area have been well recognized in the international nanoscience community. The ISGS scientist presented an invited plenary lecture at the Carbon Conference in Oviedo, Spain, in 2005; was a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at the First International Nanotechnology Conference in Tehran, Iran, in 2007; and has been invited to present a paper, "Characterization of Adsorption Properties of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes for Gas Storage and Purification" at the University of Illinois Center of Nano Science and Technology (CNST) Annual Nanotechnology Workshop May 3-4, 2007.

An ISGS graduate research assistant is helping the ISGS and University Environmental Engineering and Chemistry Department collaborators in the development and testing of nano-based carbon sorbents and membranes for gas separation and purification.