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Multifunctional engineered layers for capturing greenhouse and toxic pollutants in animal farming and fertilizer industry

Programme name: Engineering X - Transforming Systems through Partnership, Royal Academy of Engineering

Project partners: Northumbria University (UK); Universidad Industrial de Santander (Colombia); Innovation and Technology Inc. (Colombia)


Project title: Multifunctional engineered layers based on absorption dynamics of responsive natural hydrogels for capturing greenhouse and toxic pollutants in animal farming and fertilizer industry.

Project Leads


Project lead (UK): Dr Ulugbek Azimov

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Northumbria University


Project leads (Colombia):


Prof Debora Alcida Nabarlatz

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering

Universidad Industrial de Santander


Prof Paola Gautier-Maradei 

Professor of Chemical Engineering

Universidad Industrial de Santander


Industrial partner:

Dr Johann Facello Osma

Innovation and Technology Inc.


Project Activities

1. Development of comprehensive models and design tools based on the dynamics of NH3, CH4, CO2 or NO2 bulk absorption and surface adsorption by hydrogels based on Fickian (concentration dependant) and non‐Fickian (time‐dependant) dispersion at low Reynolds‐number flows.


2. Development of a testing rig with the capability of controlling flow conditions such as surface topology, air moisture, pH, temperature, and pressure to investigate the absorption or adsorption processes under low Reynolds number flow conditions to experimentally observe the variations in local flow field from preferential flow paths due to physical heterogeneities.


3. Characterization of local coffee and cacao waste and develop processes of coffee and cacao mucilage extraction.


4. Synthesis of natural hydrogels based on polysaccharides with desired physical properties (with high permeability and absorption of NH3, CH4, CO2 or NO2). These processes will include preparation of monomers and required crosslinkers, polymerisation and gel preparation.


5. Investigation of the effect of external stimuli on natural hydrogel response to capture NH3, CH4, CO2 or NO2.


6. Life Cycle Assessment studies for mass production of hydrogen absorption layers and their implementation within Colombian agriculture and fertiliser sectors.


7. System functionality analysis and testing and establish links with local industries for the development of cost‐effective pre‐industrial scale manufacturing of system components in collaboration with the Colombian industrial partner.


8. Fabrication of working prototypes of protective natural hydrogel layers using electrospin technology in collaboration with the Colombian industrial partner.


9. Research‐Industry Training on analysis, characterisation, fabrication, production and application of natural hydrogel systems for capturing atmospheric carbon and nitrogen oxides. This training will be held at UIS and discuss research and industrial methods to fabricate responsive natural and multifunctional hydrogel systems with applications in agriculture, energy and health sectors.

10. Industry‐Academia Knowledge Transfer national workshop on carbon capture utilisation storage (CCUS) and waste‐to‐bioenergy (WtBE) application in agriculture and fertiliser sector will be held at UIS. This workshop will help to establish research links between Colombian industries and university scientists and early career researchers and stimulate future long‐term collaboration on the advancement of synthetic sequestration and renewable energy projects on the local and national levels.

Project Brief

The aim of this project is to study the complex dynamics of absorption of greenhouse and toxic gases such as CH4, CO2, NH3, NOx by natural hydrogel materials at low Reynolds number flows to determine interactions and adsorption/desorption of the flow at the interface of a hydrogel matrix in order to develop novel multifunctional layers for effective capturing these substances. This innovative technology can be used in: 1) animal farms to capture gaseous products of animal manure decomposition; 2) anaerobic digestion plants; 3) fertiliser production plants; 4) systems for removal of chemicals from wastewater; 5) methods for soil enrichment with biodegradable organic additives.


We will develop processes to produce responsive natural hydrogels in Colombia from local coffee and cacao mucilage that is extracted during processing and fermentation and usually wasted. Coffee and cacao mucilage is abundantly available in Colombia as country is the world’s third largest producer of coffee and the fourth largest producer of cacao.

Studies show that manure is a significant source of NH3, CH4 or NOx emissions, estimated to be 40 %, 23 % and 28 %, respectively, of the total world’s anthropogenic emissions. The pollution manure causes is shown to remain largely ignored. Therefore, we will develop new technology that will help reducing these emissions from animal farms to the atmosphere. If effectively captured, these nitrogen- and carbon-reach substances could be used as biodegradable soil enrichment agents or hydrogen-carrier fuels such as hydronitrogens. The tangible impact of this project within short to medium timeframe will be measured by: 1) reduced exposure of population to toxic gases and positive impact on global warming; 2) safe recycling of chemicals as fuels and biodegradable soil enrichments; 3) established industry-academia partnerships for developing, manufacturing, testing, producing and applying this technology in agricultural and fertiliser production sectors.

Project Goals and Objectives

1. In collaboration with industrial partners, we will develop novel natural hydrogel materials from mucilage

collected from local coffee and cacao in Colombia. We will establish a research group on novel biomaterials and train early career researchers and industry engineers. We will also establish links with local communities to empower them to be engaged in research and develop their projects supported by UIS on how to develop novel green materials and renewable energy technologies using local resources in Colombia.


2. We will develop comprehensive models and design tools to describe the dynamics of absorption of NH3, CH4, CO2 and NOx by natural hydrogels based on Fickian and non-Fickian diffusion at low Reynolds number flows. Based on modelling results, we will develop multifunctional permeable layers based on natural hydrogels with high efficiency of NH3, CH4, CO2, and NOx absorption using a electrospinner. We will establish a research group at UIS with the focus on carbon capture and green materials in agriculture and application of research outcomes into teaching programmes of UIS and Northumbria University. The structure of our research plan is such that each objective will lead to a standalone piece of high-quality applied R&D, which will be disseminated through high impact journals and presented at local and international symposiums and conferences.


3. In collaboration with industrial partners, we will design and manufacture working prototypes of multifunctional layers at pre-industrial scale and carry out a system functionality analysis in order to capture above mentioned toxic gases. We will establish links with local industries to present the interest of the development a cost-effective manufacturing process based on this technology.

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