Research

Overview C&PE groups

The following research groups offer Master’s assignments which are especially interesting for students of the C&PE track. Click on a name to go to the relevant information.

BIOS Lab-on-a-Chip group (BIOS)

The BIOS Lab-on-a-Chip group, which is a member of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, develops miniaturized analytical systems, or so-called Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) systems, for (bio)medical and environmental applications. For such purposes, LOC systems present a number of advantages such as small sample size, high level of integration, portability, disposability, lower analysis cost, and the enhancement they provide in terms of analysis scheme (e.g., fast analysis and higher sensitivity).

Research conducted in the BIOS, Lab-on-a-Chip Group is highly interdisciplinary, and combines micro- and nanoengineering, physics, electrical/electrochemical measurements, applied biology, analytical chemistry, and surface chemistry.

The research in the BIOS group is specifically organized along 5 lines, led each by a staff member:

  • Electrochemical sensors, led by Dr. Wouter Olthuis
  • Micro- and nanofluidics, led by Prof. Jan Eijkel
  • Nanosensing
  • Cells-on-chip (& BIO-MEMS), led by Dr. Séverine Le Gac
  • Emerging research topics, led by Prof. Albert van den Berg (Chair holder).

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Catalytic Processes and Materials (CPM)

CPM explores new catalytic materials, catalytic devices and processes of relevance for industry and society. The drive towards processes is reflected in CPM’s connection to process technology, while preparation and design of micro and nano-structured catalytic materials and devices, is reflected in the participation in MESA+.

The main research projects at CPM are in the field of:

  • Renewable feedstocks: the application of bio-related materials, like organic waste and pyrolysis oil, is a promising route towards green fuels and chemicals. The conversion of bio-oil and related feedstocks requires new catalysts and processes. This area is of significant societal relevance and CPM has been in the forefront of developments.
  • Liquid phase heterogeneous catalysis: the application of solid catalysts in liquid phase reactions becomes increasingly important because of the easy separation of catalyst and products. However, mass transfer in liquids is slow which affects the catalyst’s activity and selectivity. We develop new combinations of catalyst-reactor systems that limit or prevent transport problems.
  • Spectroscopy in liquid phase catalysis: to identify reaction phenomena and improve catalysts for renewable feedstock and water cleaning.
  • Selective oxidation: partial oxidation reactions are a typical example of the need for high-precision catalysis, because usually oxidations have low yields caused by consecutive conversion to undesired side-products. CPM focuses on unconventional methods to achieve higher selectivity.

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Inorganic Membranes (IM)

Activities of the group Inorganic Membranes revolve around energy-efficient molecular separation using inorganic membranes under extreme conditions. The latter include high temperature, elevated pressure, and chemically demanding environments. The group combines materials science on a nanometer length scale with process technology on a macroscopic scale.

Materials science topics include, amongst others:

  • Development of new, sol-gel derived, nano-porous ceramic membranes.
  • Grafting of organic functional groups onto the pore walls of meso-porous ceramics.
  • (Ultra-thin) hybrid organic-inorganic membranes.
  • Dense ionic and mixed ionic-electronic conducting membranes.
  • Inorganic porous scaffolds.

Process technology topics include, amongst others:

  • Fundamentals of transport phenomena in inorganic membranes.
  • In-situ characterization of ultrathin membrane films, e.g., by ellipsometry.
  • Membrane process design.
  • Design and evaluation of membrane reactors and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC).

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Materials Science and Technology of Polymers (MTP)

The MTP group studies a range of topics, which revolve around macromolecular nanotechnology and materials chemistry of nanostructured (macro)molecular materials. MTP’s mission is to discover and establish new approaches, devise and construct tools, and synthesize materials platforms that enable studies of macromolecular structure, behavior and function from the nanometer length scale, bottom up, ultimately in a direct one-to-one control of the molecular objects. This knowledge is utilized to obtain advanced functional macromolecular materials and devices with enhanced or novel properties and functions in targeted applications.

MTP’s current research is dominated by “upstream” generic projects from the nanometer range, across the length scales, aiming at controlled macromolecular synthesis, in combination with nanoscale manipulation and fabrication of complex polymeric architectures (bottom up and top down), their utilization in stimulus responsive architectures, and in devices such as molecular motors, sensors, and actuators. Nanostructured polymers and thin polymer films obtained by MTP are also used in biomedical engineering. Our work brings techniques like Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and single molecule photonics to understand, fabricate, characterize and study functional polymer platforms and supramolecular polymeric materials.

Structure-property (morphology) studies of high-value added, nanostructured polymeric materials complement our work encompassing some direct application-oriented projects, which aim at nanocomposites, polymer surfaces and interfaces, coatings, and (molecular) adhesives and nanostructured foams (spin-off Aerotech BV). This “downstream” research component helps us to keep in touch with industries.

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Membrane Science and Technology (MST)

The Membrane Science and Technology group focuses on the multi-disciplinary topic of membranes for the separation of molecular mixtures. We aim at designing membrane morphology and structure on a molecular level to control mass transport phenomena in macroscopic applications. We consider our expertise as a multidisciplinary knowledge chain ranging from molecule to process.

We distinguish three application clusters, i.e. Energy, Water and Life Sciences:

  • Energy: the research on Energy is dedicated to the molecular design and synthesis of polymer membranes for energy applications. Examples are CO2 capture, olefin/paraffin separation, biorefinery applications, fuel cells and the generation of electricity from the mixing of sea and river water (Salinity Gradient Energy or ‘Blue Energy’). Relevant materials science oriented aspects are control of structure-properties relationships, separation of multi-component mixtures (binary, ternary systems, effect of impurities), interaction of the feed components with the membrane (e.g. plasticization) and performance evaluation. Important process technological research aspects are e.g. improvement of hydrodynamics, membrane and spacer design, separation of complex mixtures, concentration polarization and fouling.
  • Water: Within the application area Water, research addresses the development of membranes and the application of membrane technology for water treatment. In particular it investigates the relation between membrane properties, hydrodynamic conditions and fouling behavior.
  • Life Sciences: Within the application cluster Life Sciences, we focus on the design of porous systems to separate complex multicomponent mixtures in pharmaceutical, food, beverage and diagnostics applications. Important subjects are tuning the material properties and structure (e.g. pore morphology and porosity), the development of functional materials (e.g. affinity separations of biomolecules) and the creation of new and/or improved processes (e.g. faster processes, higher yields, less fouling, etc.). Other aspects related to process design and industrial implementation, such as scale-up of novel membrane fabrication methods are investigated.

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Mesoscale Chemical Systems (MCS)

In physics and chemistry the mesoscopic scale is the length scale at which one can reasonably discuss material properties or phenomena without having to discuss individual atom behavior. Applied research at this scale is covered by the fields of microreaction technology, microfluidics and nanotechnology. The research approach of MCS, a member of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, is to exploit downscaling to enhance conversion and selectivity of chemical reactions and product purification, and to improve chemical analysis on very small sample volumes.

An important research goal is to exploit alternative activation mechanisms for chemical process control and process intensification. This deals with the study of microfluidic systems with inner dimensions in the range 5 to 500 μm, containing nano-materials and integrated electricity-driven elements (electrical fields, ultrasound) to activate and control chemical reactions. The electricity preferably is derived from renewable sources, like solar energy. Applications of this research are in more efficient and more selective, sustainable chemical process routes. Solar-to-fuel conversion is one of the focus topics.

Miniaturization of analytical techniques leads to fast and efficient (low solvent and energy consumption) analysis, but also allows applications "at the point of use" , e.g. next to the hospital bed, in the field, at the crime scene, or connected to an industrial chemical reactor. Techniques which are studied for integration "on a chip" are liquid and gas chromatography, DNA analysis, and spectroscopic techniques like MS, NMR, IR and UV-Vis, including the necessary sample preparation and handling.

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PhotoCatalytic Synthesis (PCS)

Photocatalysis is based on the use of light activated catalysts in chemical conversion. Practical application is limited because of problems in light management, such as mismatch in catalyst sensitivity and solar spectrum, the limited ability of photo-excited states to induce electron transfer reactions, and lack of efficient light exposure of catalysts in reactors. We aim at understanding the role of both the physical and chemical properties of innovative materials in establishing photocatalytic transformations, targeting improved catalyst design. We also study the effect of process conditions and reactor geometry on performance, to establish operation of devices with high efficiency.

The focus of the research program is on:

  • The conversion of solar energy into chemical energy, i.e. to drive thermodynamically uphill reactions such as the synthesis of hydrocarbons by reaction of CO2 with H2O
  • The high selectivities that can be obtained in alkane oxidation over photon excited catalysts
  • Photocatalytic purification of waste streams (air and water)

Several new PhD students have recently started exciting projects in these application areas, funded by among others NanoNextNL, the NRSCC (Netherlands Research School Combination Catalysis), and the TBSC (Towards Bio Solar Cells) program of FOM.

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Soft Matter Fluidics & Interfaces (SFI)

Research within the Soft matter, Fluidics and Interfaces group is directed at interfacial phenomena and processes that are relevant for mass and heat transport. We wish to study and exploit fundamental principles where fluid flow encounters structures on a sub-millimeter length scale.

Current topics of interest are:

  • Advanced microreactors: the fabrication and operation of dedicated microreactors, amendable to scaling are investigated. Multiphase reactor systems that incorporate membrane functionality to stabilize interfaces and perform separations are developed.
  • Soft interfaces: liquid-liquid and gas-liquid interfaces are crucial in many chemical processes. Interfacial phenomena, including wetting behavior, interfacial tension (gradients), interfacial curvature, are studied to gain understanding in related transport processes near these interfaces.
  • Micro- and nanofluidics: this topic addresses liquid flow in confined geometries. Its relation to mass and energy transport are studied in both experimental and numerical ways. Special attention is given to boundary layer and concentration polarization phenomena.

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Sustainable Process Technology (SPT)

The research in the SPT group is mainly focused on:

  • New conversion processes for lignocellulosic biomass (2nd and 3rd generation biomass) and other renewable feed stock into energy, fuels and chemicals. This includes primary conversion technologies (dry- and wet gasification and liquefaction) as well as the processing/upgrading of these primary products (biomass-gas or biomass-oil) into commercial end products, for which one can think of electricity, transportation (bio-)fuels, hydrogen (for fuel cells), methane (SNG), methanol, and other chemicals.
  • CO2 capture and storage. Focus on the fundamentals of new CO2 absorption systems (e.g. for flue gas applications) as well as on temporary CO2 storage. Where possible, we will work on the integrating aspects of CO2 capture and re-use in relation to biomass conversion (like in algae production processes). Also processes for converting CO2 in chemical (for instance CH4 or methanol) are investigated.
  • Biofuels production from Algae. Algae can be considered as a suitable candidate for biological CO2 fixation via photosynthesis and a liquid fuel producer.
  • Minerals (phosphate, metals etc.) recovery from organic waste streams and ashes.
  • Affinity separation of (valuable) compounds from complex mixtures.
  • Supercritical desalination of salt water streams. The aim of this process is to produce potable water and a dry salt stream.

Examples of projects are: (a) fast pyrolysis to produce bio-oil from dry biomass, (b) catalytic reforming of pyrolysis oil towards hydrogen and syngas, (c), supercritical gasification of wet biomass streams, (d) production of biodiesel by deoxygenation and cracking of biomass, (e) New CO2 capture and conversion processes, (f) sustainable energy production using algae (closed nutrient loops and CO2 management), (g) phosphate and metal recovery from ashes, (h) desalination of RO-brines, (i) separation of enantiomers to gain enantiopure Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), and (j) separations using magnetic ionic liquids.

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