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University of Kentucky

Superfund Research Program

Responsive Membranes and Advanced Materials for Sensing and Remediation of Halo-Organics

Project Leader: Dibakar Bhattacharyya
Co-Investigators: James Zach Hilt, Thomas Dean Dziubla, Isabel Escobar, Lindell E. Ormsbee
Grant Number: P42ES007380
Funding Period: 2020-2025
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Project Summary (2020-2025)

Chlorinated organic compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and trichloroethylene (TCE, PCE) and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to pose both remediation challenges and human health risks. Despite decades of remediation effort, chloro- and perfluoro-organic compounds remain Superfund pollutants of national health concern due to their high toxicity, persistence, and varied sources of distribution in the environment. Many current treatments (microbial transformation, carbon adsorption, etc.) for the reclamation of contaminated water sources are chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, and/or require post-treatment due to unwanted by-product formation. This project proposes transdisciplinary integration of materials surface science and engineering concepts, including responsive polymer and reduced graphene oxide 2D membrane science, nanostructured metals, and nutrition and food science using approaches common in the biomedical research field to develop more efficient methods of organic detoxification. The development of nanosized iron-based materials has brought important and promising techniques into the field of environmental remediation. In recent years, zero-valent nanoscale metal (especially bimetallic) particles have attracted growing attention in groundwater remediation of chlorinated solvents. The overarching goals of this project are to create catalytic domains in robust polymer hollow fibers and in 2D graphene-based membranes for both reductive and oxidative degradation and temperature-responsive polymers for PFAS and PCB sorption/desorption. Two specific aims are to:

  1. Create robust polymeric/gel and 2-D material-based (reduced graphene oxide and composites) metal catalyzed functionalized membranes and materials to enhance TCE, PCE, and PCB degradation efficiency and reduce material usage and to demonstrate the use of catalytic membrane filters for two site-based applications;
  2. Concentrate and regenerate PFAS and PCB individual compounds using ultra high sorption capacity temperature responsive hydrogel/membranes or localized heating through AMF (alternating magnetic field) using magnetite nanoparticles and to create functionalized smart adsorptive filters and sensors for PFAS detoxification applications with real-world water samples.

Each of these objectives represents highly significant material science advancement in terms of confined reactive nanosized metals in robust membrane domain and novel temperature swing adsorption/desorption through creation of responsive materials. The applications of these technologies include collaborations with the Rockwell International site in Russellville, Kentucky for PCBs and the ATKEMIX TEN site in Louisville, Kentucky for TCE, PCE, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride mixture; identified water utilities in Eastern Kentucky for PFAS sorption application; and Arcadis Corporation involved with remediation activities.

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