Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019KY291B

Development of buoyant photocatalysts for cleaning contaminated streams and water bodies

Institute: Kentucky
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-06-17 End Date: 2020-06-16
Total Federal Funds: $10,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $20,000

Principal Investigators: Dr. Matthew J. Nee

Abstract: Large-scale spills of chemical pollutants threaten waterways by creating a slick of contaminant on top of the water surface. Conventional treatments could be augmented by the use of photocatalysts that work with solar radiation to mineralize target compounds. Unfortunately, such photocatalysts have extremely high surface-area-to-volume ratios, which means that, as powders, they form long-term stable suspensions, threatening aquatic life. We have recently developed routes to incorporate photocatalysts into buoyant polymer substrates in a novel, high-porosity bead morphology. This morphology has been shown to effectively remove dyes from solution when the common photocatalyst TiO2 is incorporated into the polymer PDMS. However, other photocatalysts could be much better candidates for cleaning of environmental spills. We will incorporate two photocatalysts, ZnO and WO3, into our polymer network to form photocatalytic beads. The beads will be characterized for density, morphology, surface area, photocatalyst integrity, and, most importantly, the rate at which they are able to degrade target compounds. The graduate student co-PI and at least one undergraduate student will be trained in synthesis, characterization, and photocatalytic analysis, learning a wide range of instrumentation, electronic data analysis, and scientific communication skills through the work. At least one manuscript will be submitted for publication in a high-impact, peer-reviewed journal; the graduate student will write and defend a thesis during the funding period. The results will be communicated to water-resource stakeholders throughout Kentucky who will be positioned to further refine and test the viability of these materials for use in environmental cleaning to mitigate future catastrophes.