Water, energy, and the environment were listed as part of the “Top Ten Problems Facing Humanity Over the Next 50 Years" by Nobel Laureate, Dr Richard Smalley. Major separation challenges underpin these areas. Take for instance CO2 capture: here, one wishes to separate CO2 from other flue gas (or ambient air) components. Significantly, separation processes account for 10 to 15% of the world energy consumption.
In our group, we design, synthesise, characterise and test porous materials (i.e. sorbents) that can address separation challenges related to environmental and energy sustainability. When relevant and possible, we confer our materials a photocatalytic property in addition to their sorptive nature as a way to intensify processes. This leads to the creation of multifunctional materials. Our main focus is on porous nitrides (i.e. boron nitride and carbon nitride), metal organic frameworks, porous polymers and composites thereof for applications in molecular separations and solar energy conversion.
Designing multifunctional materials for global challenges
Relying on the increasing complexity and sophistication of materials, we aim to build materials that can perform multiple functions, particularly combined CO2 capture (sorption function) and CO2 conversion (catalytic function).
This work is directly relevant to diversifying our energy portfolio while strengthening its sustainability. The approach we take, i.e. using multifunctional materials rather than single-function materials, allows process intensification, thereby reducing the energy required and cost of a given technology.
Tuning functional materials across scales
We focus on understanding, characterising and controlling the structure and chemistry of porous materials to enhance their performance for a given application, i.e. molecular separation or photocatalysis. The tuning is done from the nano-scale (where interfacial interactions occur), to the meso-scale (where transport phenomena are important) to the macro-scale (which relates to manufacturing).
Accelerating materials development
We are implementing a molecular engineering approach to quickly identify the best porous materials for a given molecular separation application. We combine molecular simulation, materials synthesis/testing and process system modelling.
This approach avoids the typically slow trial-and-error approach to molecules/catalysts/products development (i.e. design, synthesis, testing, manufacturing and back). Instead, it accelerates tremendously innovation and scale-up of molecules/materials. Any field that involves the making of molecules/materials could be transformed by molecular engineering research.