Dr. Richard Spontak

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Dr. Richard J. Spontak is a Distinguished Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at NC State University. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemical Engineering from Penn State University and UC Berkeley, respectively. He then pursued post-doctoral research at Cambridge University and the Institute for Energy Technology (Norway) before joining the Procter & Gamble Company. In 1992, he accepted a faculty position at NC State, where he supervises the Macromolecular Materials & Morphology Group. He has >300 peer-reviewed journal publications, and his research has been featured on >30 journal covers and cited over 15,000 times. He has been recognized with the NC State Alexander Q. Holladay Medal for Excellence, the ACS Chemistry of Thermoplastic Elastomers and Roy W. Tess Awards, the IOM3 Colwyn Medal, the SPSJ International Award, and the SPE International Award. A fellow of the American Physical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the ACS PMSE Division, he is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Technological Sciences.

Ultraselective Polymer Membranes for Carbon Capture

Climate change, attributed largely to atmospheric CO2, continues to threaten the global environment and humanity. Numerous efforts have endeavored to design membranes to remove CO2 from both industrial processes involving flue gas and natural gas. In this work, we explore two approaches that are used to fabricate organic membranes capable of CO2 ultraselectivity (i.e., CO2/N2 selectivity > 100). In one instance, the starting point is a sustainable bionanoparticle, micro/nanofibrillated cellulose (MNFC), which acts as a natural barrier to gas permeation. Addition of a hydrophilic ionic liquid (IL) to coat and separate MNFC fibrils, followed by subsequent use of humidified feed gas, activates a “gate-opening” mechanism at intermediate relative humidity levels so that CO2 selectively permeates through the hydrated IL. The selectivity levels measured here for such hybrid membranes exceed 300. In the second case considered, the starting point is a low-selectivity, ultrapermeable (CO2 permeability > 1000 Barrer) membrane that is surface-functionalized to introduce CO2-philic groups. By integrating two different transport mechanisms, CO2 concentrates on the CO2-philic membrane surface and then quickly permeates through the high-permeability substrate, yielding ultraselective and ultrapermeable membranes that not only far exceed the Robeson upper bound but also remain economically viable and process compatible.