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Clean Energy: Carbon-Based Ionic Materials

 Our research laboratory in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is working on the design, synthesis and test of novel organic ionic polymers and small molecules to address some bottleneck challenges in clean energy projects.  The majority of the world’s energy needs are currently supplied through petrochemical sources, coal, natural gas, (fission-based) nuclear power, with hydroelectricity, and solar power; except for the last two options, these sources are finite and at projected usage rates will be consumed within the foreseeable future.  The world’s increasingly high energy demand and the corresponding pollution problems resulting from the widespread use of fossil fuels make it increasingly necessary to develop the renewable energy sources of limitless duration and smaller environmental impact.

 We believe that an academic research program should not only train students and prepare our future workforces, but also need to provide practical solutions to address technical challenges in our today’s global economy.  Some of our funded R & D projects include:

 (1)   Novel anion-conductive electrolytes and polymer membranes.  Small molecular and polymeric electrolytes can be used in alkaline fuel cells, metal-air batteries, and electrolytic cells.  Despite all the ups and downs, we believe that fuel cells, especially alkaline membrane fuel cells (AMFCs) and metal-air batteries are the most promising technologies to meet the world’s growing clean energy demands.  Our laboratory is currently working on alternative anion-conductive materials that show high ion-conductivity and high thermal stability in strong alkaline media;

 (2)     Novel ionic polymer membranes for CO2 separation.  This project is supported by the Illinois Clean Coal Institute.  A Supreme Court decision on April 29, 2014 upholding U.S. rules that curb air pollution that floats across state lines was seen as a boost for the EPA's plan to crack down on carbon emissions from power plants.  This will essentially force existing power plants to “retrofit, repower or close”.  Such legal rulings will have tremendous impacts on the future of Illinois coal as shale gas has emerged as an alternative energy source for utility companies.  In this project, our laboratory focuses on the design, synthesis and test of novel ionic polymer membranes for energy-efficient and selective uptake of CO2 from power plant flue gas emissions.

 (3)   Ionic liquids and ionic polymers for electrochemical removal of sulfur from syngas and Illinois coal.   This project is also funded by the Illinois Clean Coal Institute.  Illinois coal is rich in sulfur.  However, sulfur emissions from power plants are detrimental to our environment while sulfur impurities in coal syngas are problematic for the use of coal in an IGCC power plant, Chemicals production, catalytic Fischer-Tropsch processes and fuel cell electricity production.  Our laboratory is working on examining novel ionic materials for electrochemical removal of sulfur.

 Students and postdoctoral fellows in our laboratory will be exposed to a wide array of interdisciplinary techniques:  organic synthesis, polymer synthesis and characterization, electrochemistry, battery analysis, etc.  It is our goal to help students build their problem-solving skills.  If you want to know more about our research programs or you are interested in doing research work in our laboratory, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Yong Gao at (618)453-4904; email: ygao@chem.siu.edu.  His office is Neckers 314.