Primary Investigator: Ping Wang 
Co-Investigators: Benjamin Frigo, Chao Xu (Graduate Scholar)
Industry Partners:  3M
Award Type: Seed Grant – Graduate Research Scholar

ProblemMinnesota is home to a large community of ag/food, pharmaceutical, and other manufacturing companies. Many of these manufacturing facilities contribute significant amounts of volatile organic compounds “VOCs” into the atmosphere, as a by-product of their operations. VOCs are hazardous to human and environmental health and are actively monitored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. However, few if any effective measures exist for mitigation of these airborne contaminants, especially at high concentrations.

Solution: When placed within air filtration systems, specific microbes are capable of degrading VOCs, although their effectiveness is limited by the concentration and flux of VOCs through the filter. In other words, the contaminant needs to be present at higher levels so that the microbial community can thrive. Engineered nanocarbon matrices (envision microscopic nets) offer a high surface area structure that enhances accumulation and concentration of VOCs as interaction occurs. The Wang Lab will construct a bioreactor using nanocarbon matrices that will be used to investigate remediation of VOCs contaminated air. The nanocarbon matrix will host biofilms that degrade VOCs, and the system will be analyzed for optimization.

Impact: Development of VOC treatment systems that are based on microbial remediation of contaminated air, would offer significant advancement of this technology. The success of this technology would provide many regional industry organizations a new potential solution in treating VOC emissions. Adoption of such technologies could reduce VOC emissions significantly.

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