Functionalized Nano-Sorbents

Capability Title  Functionalized Nano-Sorbents
Laboratory Argonne National Laboratory (ANL)
Capability experts Philip Laible, Patricia Ignacio-de Leon, Edward Barry
Description   These separations approaches apply advanced materials with high selectivity and binding capacity for removal of chemical species from active fermentation systems. The materials target not only bioproducts (fuels and chemicals) that are the output of bioconversion processes, but also toxins and inhibitors that deter the cost-effectiveness of the biocatalytic routes. A suite of technologies (e.g., surface-treated nanostructured networks, environmentally benign adsorbent foams, and/or other developing molecular-directed approaches) target toxins inherent to acid or hydrothermal pretreatment of lignocellulosic materials or inhibitors produced during fermentation that impair the performance of enzymes. The economic impact of the approaches depends heavily upon the longevity of the materials and how many times they can be reused. Their implementation is projected to increase production rates, extend biochemical catalyst lifetimes, and enable reactor-integrated separations and process intensification.
Limitations For some applications, these technologies require near molecular recognition of the chemical moieties that are targeted. In many cases, there can be interference with similar (possibly related) molecules in the process stream. It can become nearly impossible to remove the target and leave the rest. The specificity of binding targets is dictated by substituents projecting from surfaces treated with silane-based monomers. Simple silane combinatorics may not be able to be tailored for exclusive molecular recognition of an impurity or toxin. These restrictions can affect yields and purities of recovered streams.
Unique aspects The suite of materials that are employed share characteristics of high surface areas with voids that allow for inter-diffusion of small molecules to the exclusion of active organisms that are carrying out the bioconversion process. The variation in materials formats allows for the best material platform to be selected that matches the needs of the bioconversion process. For example, engineered nanostructured networks usually result in exhibiting superior specificity whereas designer polymeric foams generally have the highest binding capacity.
Availability Functionalized Nano-Sorbents of various formats are ready to be tailored for particular applications and for use in unique environments.  Ones that target hydrophobic moieties are readily available but could be engineered further for increased specificity.  Materials that seek to remove hydrophilic targets are more challenging and labor intensive, but methods are in place establish specificity via combinatorial surface treatments that target the unique chemical signatures of the molecules of interest.

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