Mapping Air Quality with Kite-Based Sensors
Monitoring the concentration of environmental pollutants is critical for effective decisionmaking about how to improve air quality. The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) such as drones is attractive to provide detailed data about the spatial variation of air quality metrics; however, UAVs have flight times limited by battery life, public acceptance of UAVs is challenging, and there are increasingly stringent restrictions on the safe operating zones for UAVs. This project explores an alternative kite-based system for aerial monitoring of air quality. Kites have the potential to be lower cost than UAVs, require less energy to operate, and may have operational advantages such as flying at higher wind speeds and in areas inaccessible to UAVs. This project extends past work using kites for environmental monitoring by evaluating several potential improvements: (1) flight control multi-line kites to maneuver the kite precisely throughout the wind window and (2) suspension of a lightweight air sampling tube from the kite system to ground-based sensing equipment.
Mesoporous adsorbents for perfluorinated compounds
In this project we plan to develop porous adsorbents for cleanup of water contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. Most of existing technologies are expensive and insufficiently efficient. The proposed materials with high adsorption capacity (up to 6.8 mmol/g) will be used for reversible adsorption of these contaminants from drinking water or wastewater. The innovative aspect of the project is the use of bridged polysilsesquioxanes combining high structural stability with high concentration of surface amino-groups serving as adsorption sites. The project is based on the hypothesis that porous hybrid materials containing bridged amines can adsorb PFOA and PFOS from contaminated water with significantly enhanced adsorption capacity. Application of the developed adsorbent in water filters will significantly reduce the exposure of people in affected areas to PFOA and PFOS. It will improve public health by reducing the rate of related illnesses, i.e. developmental effects, cancer, immune and thyroid effects, etc.
UV-LED Photocatalytic fuel vapor emissions control
A photocatalytic process that can be incorporated into a current evaporative fuel vapor emissions control system in an automobile will be fabricated and assessed for proof of concept as a method to reduce/eliminate evaporative fuel emissions. UV-LEDs will be used as the light sources for the process, while a suitable photocatalytic film, such as TiO2, will be used as the photocatalyst. While photocatalysis for gas-phase oxidation of organic vapors has been researched extensively, the application of photocatalysis within the evaporative fuel vapor emissions control system in an automobile is a new and innovative idea! UV-LEDs are small, robust solid-state light sources that require low direct current (DC) power, which could be provided by the battery already contained within the automobile. In addition, they can be turned on and off instantaneously and have very long lifetimes, upwards of 10000 hours. Photocatalysis is a process in which light, as opposed to heat, activates a catalyst. Therefore, photocatalysis can be used to oxidize organic vapors at room temperature! In brief, light energy excites the electrons in the photocatalytic material, creating surface active sites that participate in oxidation and reduction reactions.
Reactive Electrochemical Membrane (REM) Filtration for Water Treatment
EPA launched its drinking water guidelines for Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in response to rising concerns of these chemicals toward drinking water security. Many conventional water or wastewater treatment processes are ineffective at removing perfluorochemicals due to their strong resistance to hydrolysis, photolysis, and chemical or microbial degradation. This proposal will perform a holistic evaluation of removal of PFASs via reactive electrochemical membrane (REM) filtration, which combines ultrafiltration and electrochemical oxidation. REM acts as a filter and anode that reacts with PFASs and blocks chemical pollutants. Our goals are to demonstrate that REM has high potential and unparalleled performance in the removal of PFASs for drinking water supply. Particularly, we will investigate the degradation and removal mechanisms of two model PFASs: PFOA and PFOS. Moreover, we will assess the stability of REM filters to chemical degradation and resistance to surface fouling as well as the impacts on filtration performances (e.g., permeate flux decline). This project will deliver new insight into the development of novel and sustainable water treatment technologies to support POU applications in residential and small community water purification for improved water quality and human health protection.
Microplastics, Macro Problem: A Novel Technique to Remove Microplastics From Water Using a Modified Electrostatic Filter
Microplastics are an increasingly problematic aspect of plastic pollution. Estimated to contaminate 83% of tap water supplies worldwide, microplastics are sponges for toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that pose a health threat to humans and marine life. Currently, there are no feasible options to remove microplastics from water that are both effective and economical. By applying principles used in electrostatic smoke precipitators to remove particulate matter from air, this technology uses electromagnets and electrostatic charges to ionize and attract microplastics, and then effectively filter them from water. By varying the strength of the electromagnets, the filter shows trends of increasing microplastic filtration with greater charges of the electromagnets. Results of testing shows that the filter with the highest electromagnet charge successfully filtered an average of 24.5% of large sized (2.5mm) microplastics and 14.88% of small sized (1.05mm) microplastics. This trend differentiates this filter because it does not rely on mesh/membrane size to remove the microplastics. Given that a 9V battery is the power supply used, it is logical that a stronger power source would remove more microplastics. This research shows potential in both commercial and industrial levels, with applications in a variety of settings, ranging from household laundry to wastewater treatment.
Model of Straight Pipe Prevalence in Rural Alabama
Although technically illegal, site inspections in three Alabama counties indicate that straight pipes (raw sewage discharges from homes) are common. These conditions in Alabama have attracted the attention of UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights to Water and Sanitation and Extreme Poverty. Additionally, recent articles in major media outlets, including Newsweek and The New York Times, have covered wastewater in Alabama. Despite the international attention and the troubling evidence of adverse health effects, no one knows how common these untreated wastewater discharges are in rural Alabama. We are using data gathered through past onsite inspections, soil data and parcel value in three Alabama counties to build a model that provides the first ever estimate of the number and location of these household raw sewage discharges in rural Alabama. The innovative aspects of this project include: (1) building the first model to quantify straight pipe discharges in the US, (2) integrating multidisciplinary data and expert knowledge in modeling local wastewater issues, and (3) generating maps estimating the magnitude of raw sewage discharge in rural watersheds. We propose that our GIS based computer model will be able to reliably predict regions most in need of support for rural wastewater.
Soil amendments for enhanced phosphorus retention: Implications for green infrastructure design
Neither of the technology has been studied extensively in the context of green stormwater infrastructure for nutrient removal. Both WTR and coir are waste substrates and have the potential to be re-used on land in a sustainable manner for different purposes. Many studies have shown promising ability of Al and Fe-based WTR in reducing phosphorus leaching from agricultural landscapes. This study is unique wherein we investigated the ability of Ca-WTR to reduce nutrient leaching in experimental bioretention mesocosm treated with various compost additions for urban stormwater applications. Coir has mostly been studied for its potential use as soilless substrate for plants. Benefits from coir such as increased water holding capacity and flowering, and reduced evapotranspiration has been observed. Here, we also study coir for nutrient retention in a laboratory column study. Results can be used by water managers and practitioners to promote sustainable reuse of waste materials as filter substrates in urban green infrastructure applications for improved stormwater quality. WTR is cheaper alternative to the expensive engineered proprietary filter media substrates used in stormwater infrastructures and can be acquired freely from municipal drinking water plants. Coir is a tropical plant and thus its availability and cost may be regionally dependent.
Molecular tools to predict cyanobacteria toxin production
This work will provide valuable insight into the mechanistic interaction of toxin production in cyanobacteria with different environmental factors, and provide fundamental physiological and transcriptional information to further explore and predict the behavior and impacts of cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater systems. The results of this study will offer an opportunity to develop approaches for the prediction and monitoring of HABs as well provide insight to the molecular level approaches for mitigation of HABs. While the scope of the proposed project is limited to few environmental factors, we must consider that different environmental conditions are expected to occur with many other nutrients present in any given water system. Consequently, future studies will benefit from examining HABs in freshwaters using a more holistic approach employing a combination of emerging (gene transcription) and conventional (growth rate) technologies.
Vermicompost from waste algae
This project aims to develop, evaluate, and demonstrate the efficacy and feasibility of harvesting algae from stormwater systems for use as a vermicompost amendment as a cost effective means of reducing nutrients and heavy metals in stormwater systems and turning a waste product into a useable sustainable product.
Process to Improve Lithium Ion Battery Life and Capacity
This new self-optimization process addresses a key problem in lithium ion batteries associated with retaining full charge capacity through multiple charges – reduction of electrode volume change during charging and discharging of the battery. By reducing volume change of anode materials from 400% to less than 1%, with full charge and discharge cycles, long-term cyclability is achieved. To enable this technology, a cost-effective process can be integrated into production lines for mass production. It is a self-optimization process for preparing ion battery electrodes that significantly reduces the volume change of silicon (Si) anode materials during full charging and discharging cycles. The self-optimization process and coating can be applied to any anode and cathode active materials showing high volume change during charging and discharging.
Catalytic Formation of Syngas from Biomass
To date, the most common biomass refining process involves the transformation of cellulose to glucose and then to ethanol, which is ultimately used as a biofuel. However, this biological approach of hydrolysis followed by fermentation has the disadvantages of (1) requiring costly enzymes, which suffer from short shelf life, and (2) most of the starting material ends up as unusable waste. The proposed novel technology produces syngas by reaction of a carbohydrate with a polyoxometalate catalyst in the presence of concentrated acid, under anaerobic conditions. As a result, carbon monoxide is generated, followed by the electrochemical release of hydrogen. This two-step process ensures complete digestion of biomass into its basic components that can be further processed to produce fuels and organic materials, resulting in a potential reduction in global petroleum dependency. In addition, it allows for easy separation and storage of the desired products.