Landfill gas, a mixture of approximately 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide, is produced from organic matter contained in the waste materials thrown away every day at landfills. Methane is known as clean burning fuel compared to coal or oil, but the opposing presence of carbon dioxide is a large barrier for the landfill gas to become a widely used energy fuel.
The research focus of UW-Platteville's Mohammad G. Rabbani is to separate carbon dioxide from landfill gas in an effort to make landfill gas a viable solution for energy generation. Dr. Rabbani and his team at UW-Platteville have worked to construct porous membrane composites capable of effective gas separation. The resultant membrane composite will be used as a filter to separate carbon dioxide from landfill gas to obtain relatively clean methane from the gas.
Dr. Rabbani started his research on design and synthesis of porous materials when he was a post-doc at VCU in 2009. He synthesized a series of porous organic polymers which have nitrogen functional sites in their pore structures. The polymers possess pore diameters comparable to the diameter of small gas molecules and showed very high affinity to capture carbon dioxide compared to nitrogen and methane. This result encouraged him to develop novel technology for separation of gas mixtures based on porous materials.
After relocating to UW-Platteville, he narrowed his focus on purification of landfill gas, which is being currently collected and flared off rather than harnessed and utilized. The separation of carbon dioxide will concentrate methane content and make it more economically feasible to supply methane through pipelines for use as a clean energy fuel.
There are three undergraduate research students are working on this project, and the team is on their way to developing a cost effective and easy method to produce target materials. Dr. Rabbani explains that without WiSys funding, he would not have been able to start this research. While working with WiSys, he has learned how important it is to be able to turn ideas and discoveries into commercializable outcomes.
Upon successful development of the target materials, Dr. Rabbani will continue research in this field to bring the technology to commercialization. He expects to expand collaboration as the research progresses, and plans on getting more students involved in research to obtain further experience in critical thinking and use of high tech instruments.