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10 April 2017

Effective chemical processes through refined nano structures

Han Gardeniers (MESA+ Institute for nanotechnology) embraces the dream of a cleaner chemical industry. What can we do to ensure less waste and less energy consumption?

Gardeniers may be responsible for a major breakthrough in this area in the next few years. He has received a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant to conduct further research into making chemical processes in for instance the fine chemicals industry more effective and efficient. 

In the future, new, clean factories in the fine chemicals and pharmaceutical industries will benefit from these improved processes. Localized hydrogen production will also benefit, to be used as a cleaner fuel that will not contribute towards the greenhouse effect. Gardeniers’s proposed route is based on the implementation of innovative materials and precisely defined nano structures.

Innovative structures

Gardeniers’s research is involves the creation of 3D network structures from nanowires. These are made using additive manufacturing methods (better known as 3D printing), which involves aligning active nanoparticles with high precision to enable effective and efficient chemical processes. This gives rise to symmetric structures that streamline the molecular and energetic pathways. “Other production techniques do not yet allow for structure development with such precision, and precision is key,” explains Gardeniers.

Gardeniers will also research how sunlight can be used as an alternative energy source in chemical processes. Gardeniers explains: “We see potential in this area because additive manufacturing enables us to focus on the thickness of the wires in the structure and at the same time the distance between the active nanoparticles that convert the light. Material composition of the wires is a relevant factor and requires further study.”

Gardeniers’s research will require him to design new production processes for the equipment currently in use in the University of Twente’s Nanolab. A new machine needs to be developed, involving integration of a microfluidic system in a 3D printer in such a way that the material can be tuned before it finds its way into the 3D structure. Multiple development of these new printer heads enables the envisaged structure to be created at even larger scales.

About

Professor Han Gardeniers started at the University of Twente in 1990, with a side step into the SME business between 2001 and 2003. Gardeniers has been a professor at the Chair of Mesoscale Chemical Systems with MESA+ and the Faculty of Science and Technology since 2007. He received a VICI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in 2004 to study the miniaturization of chemical processes. The research he will be conducting with his ERC Advanced Grant will add a new insight to his previous work on implementation of new nano structures to improve new catalytic and sunlight-driven chemical processes.