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Published 21 February 2020

Fast-Start grant supports University of Canterbury-led research on energy-saving nanotechnology

Dr Matthew Cowan. Photo: University of Canterbury News

Many raw materials used in everyday consumer goods are produced using industrial separation and purification processes that are incredibly energy-intensive. Dr Matthew Cowan is leading a project to develop innovative energy saving alternatives

Adapted from the original article published by University of Canterbury News on 20 February 2020

Tiny yet complex nano-crystals made of molecular chicken wire may sound like unlikely candidates to save the world from burgeoning energy over-consumption, but for UC Chemical and Biological Engineering lecturer Dr Matthew Cowan they hold a lot of exciting potential.

He has received a $300,000 Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant to lead research to explore using the molecular chicken wire to create new membrane technology that could eventually replace today’s energy-hungry industrial separation processes, which currently account for eight percent of global energy use.

“In particular, the purification of ethylene by distillation – used to make many plastics and chemicals – requires more energy than New Zealand currently generates,” says Dr Cowan, who observes that improving energy efficiency in this area would be both economically and environmentally beneficial.

Other researchers on this ground-breaking project are UC Professor Paul Kruger and US-based Professor Gregory Parsons of North Carolina State University.

The membrane processes under investigation would use only a fraction of the energy required for traditional distillation separation.

“Imagine the energy required to filter water, compared to boiling it,” suggests Dr Cowan.

He and his fellow researchers aim to produce high performing, defect-free thin-film membranes of molecular chicken wire, suitable for industrial applications. Currently, no sure production method exists for this.

“We will investigate fundamental strategies to develop a general method for producing these high performance membranes within tubular ceramic supports, allowing their widespread implementation into the existing and future separation processes that support our everyday lives.”

Additional information: University of Canterbury News