(4dy) Advanced Nanocomposites and Smart Solvent Processing

Ureña-Benavides, E. E., Georgia Institute of Technology
Kitchens, C. L., Clemson University
Eckert, C. A., Georgia Institute of Technology
Liotta, C. L., Georgia Institute of Technology

My future research will apply smart solvents technology to the isolation of carbohydrate nanocrystals from lignocellulosic materials.  A greener processing scheme is expected for production at an industrial scale.  Moreover, the isolated nanomaterials will be processed into advanced nanocomposites while studying the ability to control their mechanical and transport properties.  The principles and technology developed will be used for developing new smart materials.  Among the vast number of applications, the fabrication of gels and membranes for specialty separations will be of significant interest.

Smart solvents systems were the focus of my postdoctoral work.  This technology aims to advance greener chemical processes that can be performed at industrial scales.  For a process to be “green” it must be economical as well as environmentally friendly.  Even though carbohydrate nanocrystals have limited toxicity and come from renewable resources; the process for isolating them from lignocellulosic biomass requires severely harsh acidic conditions and extensive purification.  Smart solvents like sulfolenes and gas expanded alcohols can be used as self-neutralizing acid/solvent systems, which are recyclable and eliminate the need of costly purification schemes.

During my doctoral research I isolated cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) from cotton and employed them as a reinforcement of calcium alginate nanocomposite fibers.  This novel material is inspired on the behavior of native cellulose fibers.  The fibers’ mechanical properties can be tuned by controlling their microstructure through simple processing parameters like jet stretch.  Complementing the smart solvents technology with controlled processing of nanocomposites will lead to improved production schemes for new advanced materials.