The Team of Dr. Benjamin S. Hsiao Won Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water - Creativity Prize (2020)
Dr. Hsiao’s team has developed adsorbents, coagulants and membrane materials from sustainable, biomass-sourced nanocellulose fibers along with numerous practical applications that promise to provide effective water purification for off-grid communities of the developing world. Their work also involves the development of environmentally friendly biomass extraction processes to produce these low-cost cellulose nanofibers for use in energy-efficient industrial water treatments, desalination and heavy metal removal, capable of reaching a performance/price ratio of over 10-100 times better than existing commercial systems. (The team also includes Dr. Priyanka Sharma, research scientist at Stony Brook University.)
Bio-based nanocellulose has been shown to possess impressive mechanical properties and simplicity for chemical modifications. The chemical properties are largely influenced by the surface area and functionality of the nanoscale materials. However, finding the typical cross-sections of nanocellulose, such as cellulose nanofibers (CNFs), has been a long-standing puzzle, where subtle changes in extraction methods seem to yield different shapes and dimensions. Here, we extracted CNFs from wood with two different oxidation methods and variations in degree of oxidation and high-pressure homogenization. The cross-sections of CNFs were characterized by small-angle X-ray scattering and wide-angle X-ray diffraction in dispersed and freeze-dried states, respectively, where the results were analyzed by assuming that the cross-sectional distribution was quantized with an 18-chain elementary microfibril, the building block of the cell wall. We find that the results agree well with a pseudosquare unit having a size of about 2.4 nm regardless of sample, while the aggregate level strongly depends on the extraction conditions. Furthermore, we find that aggregates have a preferred cohesion of phase boundaries parallel to the (110)-plane of the cellulose fibril, leading to a ribbon shape on average.
Dr. Priyanka Sharma Won 2020 Young Academic Inventor’s Award
Priyanka Sharma, PhD, Research Scientist, Department of Chemistry (PhD 2014, CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, Pune India, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Chemistry, Stony Brook University) won the award “for her inventions leading to the development of nitro-oxidation method to extract nanocellulose from raw biomass, which drastically decreases the consumption of energy, chemicals and water.”
Nanoscale cellulose materials obtained from the chemical treatment of biomass are very effective agents for the removal of toxic species from water, including heavy metal ions. Professor Benjamin S. Hsiao and his collaborators at Stony Brook University have developed a simple, inexpensive and environmentally friendly approach to preparing nanostructured cellulose for water purification, based on a nitro-oxidation reaction carried out on biomasses of diverse origins. In addition to providing cellulose with a superior affinity for dissolved toxic ions, this process yields nitrogen-rich salts as byproducts, which can be recovered and used as fertilizers.