Material has potential to combat large-scale oil spills



Yujie Meng at 2014 TAPPI Conference
​Yujie Meng, a Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Ph.D. candidate studying at the UT Institute of Agriculture Center for Renewable Carbon, has received the First Place award for her student poster at the 2014 TAPPI International Conference. Meng's research involved the development of a hydrophobic, oilphilic nanocellulose aerogel with the potential for use to mitigate the effects of oil spills. Meng is shown with Sean Ireland, chair of the conference's poster sessions.

​UPDATED 7/22/2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A graduate student in the University of Tennessee Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, who is studying under FWF scientists affiliated with the Center for Renewable Carbon (CRC), has developed a new material that has the potential to combat large-scale oil spills. The student, Yujie Meng, presented her finding and received first place in the student poster competition at the 2014 TAPPI International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials in June in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

Meng’s research, entitled “Carbonization of Microfibril Cellulose Aerogel: Surface, Structure and Absorption Properties,” successfully synthesized a sponge-like carbon aerogel from nanocellulose, the basic plant molecular structure that forms a green plant’s cell wall and which is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth. Aerogels are synthetic, porous, ultra lightweight materials in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas.

Nanocellulose has attracted high scientific and practical interest relatively recently because it is a biobased, green, sustainable, nontoxic and renewable inherent of cellulose from abundant resources and because of its unique intrinsic properties as a nanomaterial.

The three-dimensional network structure of Meng’s nanocellulose aerogel has ultralow density as well as hydrophobic and oilphilic properties. That is, the carbon aerogel works to repel water while at the same time binding with oils. Meng says it has super-absorbing ability for many oils and organic solvents, up to 64 times its own weight. Those characteristics, along with good recyclability, give the carbon aerogel great potential to be used to separate oil from water and to clean up large-scale oil spills. This new product has the advantage of low cost and it uses renewable and sustainable raw materials. It is also non-toxic and biodegradable.

Meng is a Ph.D. candidate
in Natural Resources (Bio-Based Products and Wood Science and Technology Concentration) and is co-advised by Dr. Siqun Wang and Dr. Timothy M. Young, both FWF faculty members affiliated with the CRC. Dr. Cristian I. Contescu at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was also involved the characterization of the carbon aerogel.

With more than 14,000 members, including engineers, scientists and managers, TAPPI is the leading association for the worldwide pulp, paper, packaging and converting industries and publisher of Paper360° and TAPPI Journal.

The Center for Renewable Carbon consolidates the UT Institute of Agriculture’s programs related to bioenergy production and biomaterials processing. The Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries houses a wide range of scientists whose mission is to advance the science and stustainable managment of natural resources to promote their health, utilization and appreciation in Tennessee, the region and beyond through programs in teaching, research and extension.

UTIA also provides instruction research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.



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