Bio-based Mesoporous Materials (B2M2)

Brown algae, researcher in lab and chromatography column.

The Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE) has been involved for a number of years in research on the conversion of waste biomass to the mesoporous materials. This green approach has provided new technologies for bio-waste utilisation and developing future biorefinery systems. 

Mesoporous materials, due to their unique large pore diameter network, have outstanding potential in a wide range of technologically important applications that are critically dependent on the mass transport of chemicals to the carbon surface. In our research, we utilise the organisation of materials at the nanometre level in biological systems to produce structured porous materials. We have shown that this could help to generate systems with the same efficiency and selectivity demonstrated by nature. It would be advantageous if porous materials could be produced in a sustainable and green manner, complementary to nature’s own material production; that is the utilisation of photosynthetic products for the generation of useful, efficient materials for tomorrow’s nanotech applications.


Some of the applications already developed from these materials include:

Starbons® technology

Starbons® are a novel family of mesoporous materials derived from polysaccharides, they have surface functionalities ranging from hydrophilic to hydrophobic.This novel Starbon® technology utilises the natural ability for polysaccharides to retain their organised structure during pyrolysis. The mesoporous Starbon® family consists of continuum of materials from polysaccharides to activated carbon.


The technology is
:  

  • Green: process avoids the use of harmful chemicals
  • Sustainable: polysaccharides are renewable resources that are widely available in many countries
  • Simple: methodology comprises just three stages: gelatinisation, dehydration and controlled pyrolysis
  • Environmentally benign: non-persistent, non-bioaccumulative and non-toxic


Starbons® applications

Starbons® have tuneable surface functionality and as such are highly desirable for many applications especially where diffusion of the species within the pore network is essential, i.e. chromatography, catalysis and adsorption.

Chromatography

Starbon® materials derived from alginic acid are particularly attractive chromatographic stationary phase materials, as they present minimal micropore content; this avoids reduction in separation efficiency as a consequence of irreversible high energy analyte adsorption in sub 2 nm pores. We have found that these stationary phases are particularly efficient at separating the sugars glucose (mono‐), sucrose (di‐) and raffinose (trisaccharide). The resultant Ion chromatograms had excellent peak shape, and near baseline resolution; all factors that have lead to collaboration with a large chromatography column manufacturer who sees real market potential within this area for this material.

Catalysis – esterification in water

Starbon® is an excellent support for heterogeneous catalysis where its unique and tuneable surface characteristics are appropriate for many reactions including unexpectedly esterification reactions conducted in aqueous media. This is particularly important in biomass fermentation reactions, which produce a range of organic acids that can be utilised as platform molecules in applications such as the production of polymers and higher value intermediates. Esterification is one of the key upgrading steps for these acids. The fermentation process is carried out in aqueous media and the resulting aqueous broths require resource intensive separation steps before the acids can be upgraded. The new Starbon®‐ catalysts overcome this problem.

Adsorption

Low cost, naturally‐derived adsorbents have great potential for use in both developed and developing countries for applications such as water purification and pollution control. The potential of porous carbonaceous materials for water purification requires a methodology that grants control over their surface chemistry, the distribution of pore sizes and as such makes Starbons® ideal candidate for such applications


Bio-Based Mesoporous Silicas

Biomass has become one of the most commonly used renewable sources of energy in the last two decades. Researchers from the GCCE, EPR Ely Limited and PQ Silicas UK Limited, have developed an efficient way of converting waste ash from a commercial biomass combustion facility into mesoporous structured silica using a biorefinery approach. This has potential high value applications in catalysis, adsorption and separation processes. The improved method of extracting the alkali silicates involves forming alkali silicate solutions, which are then converted into the porous silica, MCM-41, a useful catalyst and molecular sieve. 


B2M2 Group Members

Dr Vitaly Budarin B2M2 Technology Platform Leader
Dr Xiao Wu Postdoctoral Researcher
James Shannon Research Student
Jennifer Attard Research Student
Han Li Research Student