Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Study Abroad 2017: Joshua Sanders '18 in China

Greetings from Yichang, in the Hubei Province of China!

Joshua Sanders '18 and Dr. David Johnson in China.
My name is Joshua Sanders and I am a rising senior at Ferrum College pursuing a B.S in chemistry. This summer I have been privileged to study at the China Three Gorges University (CTGU) in Dr. Huang Ying Ping’s lab thanks to the generous financial support of the Boone Honors Program. Additionally, I’ve had the honor to work in the same research group as Dr. David Johnson, professor emeritus of Ferrum College, who has been crucial in building bridges and making connections between students of Ferrum College and CTGU.

To be boring and scientific, I’m investigating the catalytic abilities of metal-doped biochar to degrade organic pollutants via Photo-Fenton chemistry. Regular human-speak, I’m looking at the ability of a cheap, easily produced, and environmentally-friendly way to clean up wastewater from pharmaceutical, textile, and industrial production facilities.

Biochar is basically organic material, such as peanut husks, sewer sludge, plants, and other organic stuff, which has been pyrolyzed (or burned and turned to carbon in a low oxygen environment.) Think of ground up charcoal powder, like the activated carbon you use in some aquarium filters, that’s been made from what would otherwise be trash or waste material.

In my case, the biochar was made from a plant that selectively absorbed copper from the soil, meaning it could help “clean” soil before being turned to biochar. An added benefit of a metal-doped biochar is that depending on the metal absorbed, the biochar product can be used in Fenton reactions. In addition to phytoremediation of metal-contaminated soils, the absorbed metal ion is used to generate other chemical species that can attack the pollutants and either absorb them from the water or turn them into less harmful molecules, water, and oxygen gas.

Biochar has become very popular recently due to its wide variety of applications including its ability to “scrub” pollutants from water, soil and air; produce biofuel; and reduce the amount of waste to be managed. Biochar is an attractive and interesting avenue to pursue in the field of climate control and environmental pollution control.

You can see more of my photographs here.