NSF Grant Aids Study of Power Plant Pollution

Issue Date: 
December 3, 2007

The planet could breathe easier if new research now under way in Pitt’s chemistry department proves fruitful. Professors Lawrence Friedman and Toby Chapman are working with several students to develop polymers that capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants so they can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

They are synthesizing the polymers in collaboration with David Luebke of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), who will test the polymers’ effectiveness.

The project is supported by a Discovery Corps Senior Fellowship, which Friedman received from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Chemistry and the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities for the 2007-08 academic year.

Though in its early stages, the project builds on previous work involving unique polymers (large molecules made of smaller molecules) that are able to capture carbon dioxide from flue gases, are stable to flue gas components, and are inexpensive to prepare in large quantities.

Although the concept of carbon-capturing materials is not new, this research is novel in that it uses specifically designed polymers to capture carbon dioxide and has immediate application as a potential solution for uncontrolled carbon dioxide emissions.

“We’ve established a working relationship with the National Energy Technology Lab that will result in the materials we make at Pitt going directly into an application,” Friedman said. “Successfully developing and applying carbon-capturing molecules would be a good method for getting our arms around carbon dioxide emissions.”

Friedman also will develop and teach a short course on green chemistry as part of his fellowship and organize a seminar program that will bring leaders in green chemistry and chemical engineering to Pitt to make technical presentations and interact with students.

In addition, undergraduates will contribute to the development of green chemistry laboratory projects for mainstream introductory and organic chemistry courses. These students also will be involved with outreach with the University’s College in High School program and with Bidwell Training Center’s Chemical Technician program.