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D084 - CHEMICAL, ENVIRONMENTAL, BIOMEDICAL, HYDRAULIC AND MATERIALS ENGINEERING

Materials

This page presents a list of the main research topics of the PhD programme

 

Properties-structure-processing relationships in polymericmaterials

The research activities deal with topic related to properties-structure-processing relationships in polymeric materials. In particular, object of the studies are mono- and multiphase polymeric systems and their related composites systems containing micro- and nanoparticles. It is studied the preparation and the characterization of these materials, the optimization of the processing conditions and the potential functions and applications in area such as: biomedical, agriculture, sensors, environment, biotechnologies. The research activities have a strong interdisciplinary mark and are supported by numerous collaborations with other research groups and are supported by several funded research project.

 

Development of innovative modules of polymerelectrolyte membrane fuelcells

The goal of this project is the development of innovative modules of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells through the implementation of a computational tool for the multiscale modelling of the devices. This activity is coupled with experimental work for the validation of computational models.

 

Development of functional coatings

The goal of this project is the development of novel coatings produced by anodizing, hard anodizing, plasma electrolytic oxidation, electrodeposition, electro-polymerization, etc. for improving the surface properties of metals and alloys for protection in aggressive environments and for enhancing functional performances in the field of aerospace and automotive industry and for biomedical devices.

 

Fabrication and characterization of electrochemical devices

The researchactivityconcerns the synthesis of differentnanomaterials for the fabrication of electrochemicaldevices for technologicalapplications in sectorssuchasenergy, sensors, recovery of end-life materials, human health and electrocatalysis. more specifically, fivemainthematicareas can be identified:

- Deposition and characterization of nanostructures by electrochemical way (electroless and / or electroplating) usingnanoporousmembranesas a mold;

- Sensors and biosensors for environmental and biomedicalapplications;

- Deposition of biocoatings and study of the corrosionresistance of thesematerialswithin - the body fluid and study of theirpossiblecytotoxicity.;

- Nanostructuredmaterials for energy for solar cells, for lead acid batteries and for alkalineelectrolyzes;

- Recovery of end-life materialsthroughelectrochemicaltechniques. in particular, the attentionisfocused on the recovery of gold and copper from circuitprintedboards.

 

Green composites

Nowadays, the rising awareness toward of environmental issues has resulted in the need of sustainable and environmentally friendly green materials, which are renewable resources based, recyclable, biodegradable and abundantly available. Green composites are composed by a bio‚Äźbased polymer or cementitious matrices reinforced by naturalfibers, and represent an emerging area in the materials research for their possible application in several industrial fields such as biomedical, packaging, transportation, energy, construction and sports. On the other hand, some problems exist, such as difficult manufacturing methods, lower and not repeatable mechanical properties and durability in harsh environments, in comparison to traditional composites. In this context, the research activity aims to investigate on new formulations which can consider to use of adhesion promoters and additives, or chemical/physical modification of components and to refine the processing techniques in order to overcome many of these drawbacks, thus promoting a wider use of this class of composite materials.

 

Hybrid joints

Joints of dissimilar materials play an important role in several industrial fields since it is difficult or, in some cases, almost impossible produce monolithic structures. Moreover, the increasing demand for weigh reduction of structural structures leads to the use of light and stiff materials at the same time. Hence, metal alloys are widelyjoined with fiberreinforcedpolymers (FRPs) to achieve hybrid structures suitable for structural engineering applications, although the joining of dissimilar components and materials is still a critical point.

In such a context, this research activity aims to the optimization of adhesive, mechanical or mixed (adhesive-mechanical) joints by means of experimental and numerical approaches. Different manufacturing methods will be evaluated as well as metal surface treatments and chemical or physical treatments of the reinforcement of composite.

Another task of this research will be focused on the assessment of the agingbehavior of jointswhen exposed to aggressive environments through the evaluation of their quasi-static, thermomechanical and impact properties as function of the exposition time.

 

Biomaterials and bionanomaterials

Design, synthesis/modification and characterization of macromolecules for applications in biomedicine as delivery nanodevices of drugs and contrast agents, in regenerative medicine as bio-active scaffolds of stem cells, in personal care and skin care applications to encapsulate, protect and eventually release active ingredients,and for the development of functional films and coatings. In all these fields, relationships among the chemical structure, the synthesis process, the properties and functions of the materials are sought. Particular attention is payed to green chemistry approaches for the synthesis and modification of polymeric materials, including high energy radiation processes,and to the valorization of raw materials from renewable sources. The research is often carried out in multidisciplinary and international collaborations with Universities, Pharmaceutical and Consumer Products Companies and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 

Catalysis, photocatalysis, photo-electroelectrocatalysis

Preparation and characterization of new catalytic, photocatalytic and photoanode materials for oxidation and/or reduction reactions in aqueous or gaseous media.

Synthesis of high added value products through catalytic, photocatalytic and photoelectrocatalytic partial oxidation and/or reduction reactions.

Kinetic modeling of heterogeneous catalytic, photocatalytic and photoelectrocatalytic reactions.

Modeling of catalytic, photocatalytic and photoelectrocatalytic reactors and microreactors.

 

Treatments and advanced recycling of semi-metals and metals from e-waste

The aim of this project is to render the economy of some important electronic devices circular, in view of an eco-sustainable and eco-compatible development, working on the recycling and recovery of metals and semimetals, i.e. precious metals, platinum group metals, tantalum, niobium, lithium, from electronic components.

 

Design and development of innovative photobioreactors for microalgal biomass production

Microalgae are eukaryotic or prokaryotic microorganisms with a very high biodiversity. They are interesting under an ecological perspective, as they are able to capture and fix CO2 from the atmosphere. Furthermore, they can be employed in several biotechnological applications as they produce bioproducts such as proteins, polyunsaturated fatty acids, carbohydrates and carotenoids. Microalgae cultivation has not yet encountered an industrial interest because of low efficiencies of cultivation systems. Thus, the objective of this PhD project is to design and develop new innovative cultivation systems, able to maximise algal biomass productivity. In particular, the objective is to develop a novel thin-cascade photobioreactor. This photobioreactor kind involves very thin layers of cellular suspension and its aim is to maximise light capture, as it is the major limiting factor for microalgal growth.

 

Valorization of industrial waste brines though the recovery of Critical Raw Materials

The valorization of industrial waste waters is one of the cornerstones of sustainable development and circular economy concepts for the future of Europe. Looking in particular at the abundance of valuable elements in the waste brines from saltworks, one must note the huge exploitation potential of the entire Mediterranean basin, which would become the most important "mine" in Europe. This research aims at the development of reactive crystallization and selective separation technologies for the recovery of elements, such as magnesium, from waste brines. The main objective will be the analysis of complex phenomena governing reactive crystallization and relevant crystals’ nucleation, growth and agglomeration kinetics. The study will be conducted through original experimental investigation techniques coupled with advanced mathematical modeling tools capable of combining the description of mixing and crystallization phenomena inside laboratory-scale reactors, to be then scaled-up at the pilot scale.

 

Sustainable processes for the production of next generation biofuels

The research is based on the investigation of the conversion of waste biomass to fuels using effective and energetically sustainable processes. The goal is to define new strategy to transform the waste feedstock obtaining fuel with high yields and high quality. The research will be addressed to complete utilization of the feedstock so that object of investigation is also the valorization of the unconverted fractions.

 

Electrochemical tools for green processes

The research is based on the utilization of electrochemical tools for the development of green processes, such as the electrochemical remediation of soils and wastewater and the conversion of carbon dioxide to chemicals or fuels.

 

Wastewater biological treatments aimed at the production of polydroxialcanoates

The research activity focuses on the biological treatment of wastewater, both civil and industrial of the agro-food sector, aimed at the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). The activity to be developed during the doctorate will focus on the analysis of the wastewater purification processes, together with that of selection of those bacterial strains specialized in producing PHA. Specifically, the activity will involve the implementation and operation of laboratory scale plants, on which specific tests will be carried out with the aim of identifying the best operating conditions that enable to obtain high purification yields and, at the same time, the maximum conversion rate of the organic substance into PHA. Different biological technologies and process schemes will be evaluated in order to identify the configuration that best suits the achievement of the research objectives.

 

Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) recovery from wastewater

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are biopolyesters accumulated as carbon and energy storage materials under unbalanced growth conditions by various microorganisms. They are one of the most promising potential substitutes for conventional non-biodegradable plastics due to their similar physicochemical properties, but most important, its biodegradability. Production cost of PHAs is still a great barrier to extend its application at industrial scale. In order to reduce that cost, there is still a need of research focusing on the use of several wastes as feedstock (such as agro-industrial and municipal organic waste and wastewater) in a platform based on mixed microbial cultures. The relations between influent features and plant operational conditions still require to be investigated in order to maximize the biopolymer production.

 

Stratum water biological treatments

Stratum water derive from the extraction of natural gas and oil and is the object of particular attention because it is rich in hydrocarbons and, moreover, because it is highly saline.

To purify this water for its disposal in receiving water bodies, or to be destined for subsequent reuse, entails significant difficulties in the application of technically and economically sustainable purification processes, as it is forced to resort to highly expensive advanced technologies both for the investment than for operating costs.

The proposed line of research is that related to the development of biological purification systems capable of biodegrading hydrocarbons in saline solution and also providing for possible recovery of matter and energy.

In pilot plants, halophilic and halotolerant biomasses will be used for this purpose, both in suspended and attached form, with a solid liquid separation system by means of conventional sedimentation or membrane filtration.

 

Reduction of sewage sludge production from wastewater treatment plants and recover

Sludge originates from the process of treatment of wastewater. Due to the physical-chemical processes involved in the treatment, the sludge tends to concentrate heavy metals and poorly biodegradable trace organic compounds as well as potentially pathogenic organisms (viruses, bacteria etc) present in waste waters. Sludge is, however, rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous and contains valuable organic matter that is useful when soils are depleted or subject to erosion. The organic matter and nutrients are the two main elements that make the spreading of this kind of waste on land as a fertiliser or an organic soil improver suitable. On the other hand, the disposal of sludge is cost effective and accumulation in solid waste landfill is not a sustainable option. In view of a sustainable view and therefore circular economy perspective the minimization and recover of the sludge are attracting solutions. Multiple options can be applied and a trade-off between effectiveness and cost is needed.

 

Prediction of eco-hydrodynamic and morphodynamic processes in rivers

The research activities concern on one hand the analysis and prediction of river dynamics and flow discharge, also during high floods, and, on the other hand, the identification of the impact of the hydrodynamic and transport processes on the river biotic communities. This is because the mutual interactions occurring in the triad water-biota-sediment trigger complex phenomena, such as erosion and deposition processes, vegetation uprooting, colonization, etc., affecting the ecological equilibrium of the fluvial environment. An important role on the hydrodynamics and related transport processes is exerted by the vegetation present in rivers, whose influence has to be adequately taken into account. These aspects are investigated, both in the natural river reaches and in laboratory channels, by the integrated use of advanced measurement technologies and of refined eco-hydraulic numerical codes.

 

Greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment plants and mathematical modelling

Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are significant sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs): Carbon dioxide, CO2, methane, CH4, nitrous oxide, N2O. Thus, WWTPs contribute to climate change. the N2O has been recognized to play a major role due to its high global warming potential (GWP), almost 298 times higher than that of CO2 for a 100-year time scale. Nitrous oxide is mainly produced during the biological processes for nitrogen removal (nitrification and denitrification). Despite studies on the N2O production have been carried out so far still some knowledge gaps hold. Mathematical modelling may support the understanding and mitigation of GHG from WWTPs. However, experimental and modelling studies are still needed to establish a good trade-off between direct and indirect (i.e., electricity consumption) emissions.

 

RT0 Finite volume numerical methodologies for simulations of physical processes

Proposal of new RT0 Finite volume numerical methodologies for simulations of physical processes, as 1D and 2D shallow water equations over strongly heterogeneous topography, solid transport simulations, 2D and 3D flow an transport processes in heterogeneous, anisotropic, and partially saturated porous media, fully 3D biomedical applications.