2016 Seed Grant Awards

2016 CGRER Seed Grants - $243,664

Development of Chemically Functionalized, High Surface Area Nanofiber Networks for Carbon Capture; David Cwiertny, UI Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Vicki Grassian, UI Chemistry
To limit global warming, new technologies for CO2 capture are not only needed but must also be aggressively implemented upon development. Here, we aim to improve the efficiency of CO2 capture through the development of high-capacity, functionalized nanofiber networks as next-generation solid-state sorbents. We will systematically prepare nitrogen-functionalized polymer and carbon nanofiber networks (Task 1) and quantitatively evaluate their CO2 sorption capacity and rate, while also using spectroscopic methods to elucidate key mechanistic insights of CO2 uptake (Task 2). To ensure sustainable technology development, the environmental impacts of nanofiber production will also be assessed (Task 3). This strategic partnership builds upon complementary strengths of the PIs and thrusts their research programs in new directions. Project outcomes (e.g., structure-activity relationships) will guide the sustainable design of next-generation nanomaterials for CO2 capture, while also demonstrating the tremendous opportunities for the application of nanomaterials in moving society toward a more sustainable tomorrow. $35,000

Mobility of Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Bit Cuttings from Unconventional Drilling Operations; Tori Forbes, UI Chemistry
Naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORM) in solid wastes from unconventional drilling (“fracking”) operations pose environmental contamination risks; however, the composition and behavior of NORM in solid wastes are poorly understood. There is a critical need to determine (1) the isotopic composition of NORM in solid wastes, and (2) the potential for NORM to migrate from solid wastes into fresh water systems. The long-term goal of this research is to develop a fundamental understanding of the biogeochemical behavior of understudied radio elements. The objective of this proposal is to evaluate the isotopic composition of NORM in solid wastes from the Marcellus Shale and to determine the potential for NORM to migrate under conditions typical of landfills. The rationale for this project is to characterize the environmental impacts of fracking wastes entering the State of Iowa. $35,000

Towards effective and reliable removal of MCs from drinking water through biologically active filtration; Kaoru Ikuma, ISU Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering
A record increase in cyanobacterial blooms that release toxic microcystins (MCs) was observed in the Midwest region in 2015. Harmful cyanobacterial blooms are becoming an increasingly common issue globally, in part due to climate change. As a final line of defense for public health protection, drinking water treatment systems must be able to effectively and reliably remove MCs from tap water. The most promising method for MC removal is biologically active filtration that is bioaugmented with MC-degrading organisms. This proposed work will study the effectiveness of bioaugmentation of biofilters with a focus on practical scenarios in which bioaugmentation would be needed. The overall goal of this proposed work is to understand the important operational parameters that result in effective MC removal by bioaugmentation of biologically active filters. The specific research objectives will be fulfilled through laboratory-scale column reactor experiments, chemical and molecular biology measurements, and next generation sequencing. $35,000

Enhanced Plant Uptake of Contaminants of Emerging Concern under Simulated Global Change Conditions; Gregory LeFevre, UI Civil and Environmental Engineering
Improving sustainable water resources in agricultural systems requires enhanced understanding of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in plants. Elevated carbon dioxide (eCO2) conditions are known to increase nitrogen uptake by plants and alter the distribution ofassimilated nitrogen from oxidized sources to more reduced forms, including complex organic nitrogen species (CONS). In previous work, we demonstrated that two CECs with secondary amine groups were rapidly assimilated by plants and biotransformed to novel metabolites with unknown effects; indeed, some of these metabolites act as hormone mimics. We hypothesize that this assimilation and transformation phenomenon occurs for a broad range of CEC CONS and the propensity for plants to assimilate these compounds will increase under eCO2 conditions. Hydroponic assimilation studies using a model plant system will be conducted for a suite of CEC CONS and assessed under simulated eCO2 conditions. Metabolite identification will provideinsight to CEC human exposure potential from crops. $35,000

An Integrated Photoelectrochemical/Supercritical System for CO2 and Wastewater Utilization, and Fuel Production; Syed Mubeen, UI Chemical and Biochemical Engineering
The overall goal of this proposed work is to evaluate the feasibility of an innovative, integrated photoelectrochemical/supercritical process for synthesis of liquid fuels using CO2, wastewater and sunlight. Sunlight is used as the primary energy source to produce H2 from wastewater, which is then converted to liquid fuels in a supercritical CO2 reactor (Figure 1). The proposed program includes three major components. (1) Development of earth-abundant light absorbers (semiconductors) for visible light production of H2 from organics rich wastewaters. (2) Investigation of inexpensive metal-metal oxide nanoclusters for selective hydrogenation of supercritical CO2 to CH3OH. (3) Technoeconomic assessment and life cycle analysis to evaluate economic and environmental benefits of the entire process. Outcomes of this proposal may provide a transformative approach in both the philosophy and technology associated with CO2 utilization, wastewater treatment and fuel production. Experiments paired with economic justification, may result in a pilot-scale demonstration at UI power plant. $34,561

The Changing Aerosols in the Midwestern U.S. Advanced Tools to Relate Sources, Composition, Climate, and Land Use; Charles Stanier, UI Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, and Elizabeth Stone, UI Chemistry
The scientific objective of this project is to demonstrate new methods, datasets, and data analysis techniques to inform how particulate matter composition respond to changes in emissions, climate, land use, and extreme weather in the Midwestern U.S. The proposed retrospective analysis of filter samples will allow for new insight to inter-annual trends in biomass burning, bioaerosols, and secondary aerosol formation over the last decade. These organic aerosol are climate-sensitive, but are not currently assessed by national particulate matter (PM) monitoring networks that lack molecular analysis. We will establish the feasibility of archived filter analysis for organic aerosol source apportionment and develop the capacity to perform future analysis across the Midwest and beyond. The impact of this research will be extended by making our resulting dataset of air quality and related variables available to researchers and students in the Iowa Informatics Initiative. $35,000

Quantifying Salinization Vulnerability of Municipal Water Supplies from Winter Road Maintenance: A Case Study in Eastern Iowa; Eric Tate, UI Geographical & Sustainability Sciences
This study quantifies impacts from winter roadway runoff through water monitoring and load calculations in two Eastern Iowa communities. By understanding the fate and transport of road salts from transportation systems, we gain insight to environmental susceptibility for groundwater contamination. Roadway runoff samples will indicate potential impact to the Silurian aquifer and enable scaled methodology to other cold-climate regions in North America. The findings will directly inform local decision makers and water supply managers regarding the potential vulnerability from road salts. Furthermore, the results will help calibrate modeling tools implemented in project’s initial assessment phase, and determine needs for further analysis, data collection and scalability.

This study incorporates new approaches to basic screening and field-based monitoring activities. The objective is to validate a “proof of concept,” in which modeling and field sampling are applied to assess potential for contaminating local groundwater supply from winter road maintenance activities. $34,103


Tuesday, April 19, 2016