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Reza Research Group


Our research efforts primarily involve hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) and deep eutectic solvents (DES). We perform HTC of various wet feedstocks including but not limited to municipal solid wastes (MSW), sewage sludge, plastics, waste coal, agricultural residues, and dairy manure. Our goal is develop economically viable and environmentally sustainable HTC processes, which covert aforementioned wet feedstocks to solid fuel, liquid fuel, renewable natural gas, fertilizer, materials for energy storage, and functionalized carbon materials. DES research is targeted to synthesize hydrophobic DES and apply them to recover platform chemicals and organic contaminants from industrial process water.

Please contact Dr. Reza to learn more about the on-going research projects.

Prevention and Control of Harmful Algal Bloom

This project is a collaboration among Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), Ohio University (OHIO), and University at Buffalo (UB). The overarching goal is to develop biomass-derived biosorbents capable of controlling and preventing eutrophication. The goal will be accomplished via a combination of systematic experiments at batch-scale to continuous column-scale along with machine learning methods and molecular simulations.

 In this project, biosorbents will be synthesized by hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) and thermal activation of model compound (cellulose) and real biomass (corn stover) using recycled HTC process liquid. Adsorption isotherms will be generated for nutrients and microcystin, and will be modeled using machine learning methods to enable prediction of reaction kinetics. Molecular simulations will be performed to study the adsorption of nutrients and microcystin. Model biofilms will be formed and characterized and their effect on adsorption will be studied using continuous flow through experiments and mechanistic modeling. Additionally, work-life of the biosorbent will be evaluated by applying thermal regeneration. Finally, a technoeconomic assessment (TEA) will be performed to determine the economic viability of this technology.

 By the end of this project, we will have better understanding of (a) how to synthesize biosorbents for microcystin adsorption, (b) the mechanisms underlying microcystin biosorption, (c) the effects of naturally occurring biofilms on adsorption behavior in a continuous operation, and (d) the process economics involved in biosorbents synthesis and application. 

Advanced Biorefinery Feedstock Preparation from Waste Biomass

This project is leveraging Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL) facilities of biomass preprocessing technologies. The overarching goal is to upgrade high-ash biomass into low-ash, mass and energy dense, and pelletized biorefinery feedstocks. The goal will be accomplished via systematic experiments at semi-batch scale to continuous scale and a detailed technoeconomic analysis of a full-scale unit.

High-ash biomass will be collected from INL’s proven air classification (AC) technology. Mild hydrothermal preprocessing (MHP) will be performed on this high-ash fraction (HAF) biomass reject from AC to reduce structural inorganics. MHP uses subcritical water, which reacts with biomass and leaches inorganics due to its unique thermodynamic properties. Hydrochar, the resulted low ash biomass from MHP, also has binding ability, which will be explored to pelletize low-ash fraction of AC technology in single-press pellet press (at Florida Tech) and pellet mill (at INL). Finally, a detailed technoeconomic analysis of integrated AC, MHP, and pelletization processes will be performed with INL’s guidance.        

By the end of this project, we will have a better understanding of (a) how to remove structural inorganics using MHP technology, (b) the pelletization properties of hydrochar and optimum condition for biomass palletization using MHP hydrochar, and (c) economic feasibility of the high-ash biomass preprocessing technologies. MHP is a unique preprocessing technology that has transformative potentials to improve biorefinery feedstock logistics economics. USDA-NIFA-AFRI has funded $1 M for four years to develop MHP process.

Nexus of Food-Water-Energy in Municipal Solid Waste

Societal challenges around Food, Energy and Water (FEW) systems include in part the overexploitation of resources and increasing resource degradation due to the impacts of current waste stream  management. This collaborative project between Florida Tech and Ohio University focuses on systems-level interactions in the framework of "Organic Waste Lifecycles at the Interface of Food, Energy and Water Systems (OWL-FEWs)." The proposed research develops a systems-level framework for the comparative analysis of OWL-FEWs that directly couples behavior and social sciences to material flows and the development of co-products from organic wastes. The project integrates cyber infrastructure to enable real-time analysis of human behavior within waste collection systems, develops a multiscale lifecycle framework for comparing different systems, creates and tests new smart trash bin design (Internet of Things (IoT)), creates organic waste refuse content and tracking technologies, develops an environmentally-friendly deep eutectic solvent to capture carbon dioxide from biogas, and develops new hydrochar processing techniques for the conversion of wet waste as a medium to produce designer hydrochar for water remediation of acid mine drainage, a legacy waste product from coal production.


Figure: Nexus of Food Energy Water of food waste

Separation of BTX from Naphtha by DES

This project aims to study thermodynamics and adsorption kinetics of benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX) into phosphonium-based deep eutectic solvents (DES). Separating BTX from alkanes are challenging as both aromatic and alkane compounds have similar boiling points. In our preliminary studies, methyltriphenyl phosphonium bromide (METPB)-based DES showed high selectivity for BTX due to their available π- electrons in the phenyl orbitals. Until now, most of the DES studies have been performed on equilibrium, although kinetics and thermodynamics studies are necessary to address these following fundamental questions:

  1. How does DES’s dipolarizability (KT-π* parameter) shift the ternary LLE distribution of BTX/alkane/DES?
  2. How does the chemical potential of BTX vary with eutectic compositions of DES?
  3. What is the rate limiting mass transfer step for BTX transfer across two-films?

This project seeks to answer these questions using three specific tasks. First, Kamlet-Taft (KT) parameters (i.e., H-bond donating ability, H-bond accepting ability, and dipolarizability of BTX into DES will be evaluated using solvatochromic method and COnductor like Screening MOdel (COSMO) simulation. Second, partition coefficients for DES as well as sulfolane-assisted BTX separations will be determined from these KT-parameters and ΔS, ΔH, and ΔG will be calculated. Third, mass transfer coefficients of BTX into DES will be estimated using a Lewis cell setup, and self-diffusivity of solute will be measured experimentally and verified by COSMO. By completing this project, we will understand the kinetics of BTX adsorption, which will allow us to design an effective DES process and better utilize its unique properties.

Ternary Diagram