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GAANN Fellowship in Carbon-based Materials for Sustainable Building and Energy Applications

Program Summary

Are you a high-performing STEM student passionate about interdisciplinary research on advanced carbon-based materials for sustainable applications? Are you ready to pursue a doctoral degree and make a positive impact on the world?  

We invite you to apply for the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship in Carbon-based Materials for Sustainable Building and Energy Applications. 

The Fellowship is awarded based on academic performance and financial need, upon the recommendation of the student’s department and approval by the Graduate School and the Fellowship Program Selections Committee. 

Eligibility Requirements 

  1. Enrolled full-time in or admitted to the doctoral program in department hosting a fellowship: Mechanical Engineering, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, and Physics & Astronomy.
  2. U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or a permanent resident of a Free State 

  3. Committed to a career as a university faculty member or high-impact researcher 

  4. Outstanding undergraduate and (if applicable) graduate academic record (cumulative grade point average) 

  5. Demonstrated financial need, determined according to federal guidelines 

How to Apply 

Step 1.  Apply to the PhD program in the Mechanical EngineeringChemical & Biomolecular Engineering, or Physics and Astronomy departments.

Step 2.  Email Dr. Jason Trembly at trembly@ohio.edu expressing your intent to apply for the GAANN Fellowship. 

GAANN Faculty and Department Affiliations 

  • Khairul Alam, Professor, Mechanical Engineering 
  • Muhammad Ali, Professor, Mechanical Engineering 
  • Gang Chen, Associate Professor, Physics & Astronomy 
  • Damilola Daramola, Assistant Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • David Drabold (Co-Director), Distinguished Professor, Physics and Astronomy 
  • Greg Kremer (Co-Director), Robe Professor, Mechanical Engineering 
  • Mark Lucas, Professor of Instruction, Physics & Astronomy 
  • Jason Trembly (Director), Russ Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • John Staser, Associate Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • Eric Stinaff, Associate Professor, Physics & Astronomy 
  • Andrew Weems, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering 
  • Brian Wisner, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering 

Research Projects

Conversion of Legacy and Biorefinery Waste Materials into Sustainable Multi-Functional Carbon Foam Materials (Trembly, Drabold, G. Kremer) 

The construction industry utilizes energy and GHG emissions-intensive materials with significant embodied carbon contributing to climate change or lumber resulting in deforestation and loss of carbon sinks. Current OHIO research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy is developing carbon foam materials from legacy mining wastes as a replacement for building materials. This project will investigate the incorporation of multiple carbonaceous wastes as feedstocks (mining wastes, recycled plastics, carpet, etc.) for continuous carbon foam manufacturing. Feedstock composition, additives, and manufacturing parameters will be investigated and resulting carbon foam properties including mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties will be determined. 

Theory and Simulation of Carbon Foam Properties at the atomic scale (Drabold, Daramola) 

The carbon network present in carbon foam is complex and understanding this network in greater detail could allow the material to be tailored for a host of applications (building, battery, transportation, and defense sectors). Carbon foam is a form of low-density amorphous carbon with small, but possibly significant concentrations of O, N, H, and S. We propose to utilize ab initio methods to develop computer models of the materials. Computer models of carbon surfaces will also be created, to determine chemical reactivity and stability. Structural phase transitions associated with growth processes will be explored. The basic goal of the theory/simulation component of our proposal is creating a set of realistic computer models of all the foam materials studied, closely correlated with experimental research, with an ultimate goal of assisting in the optimization of the materials. We will also work to predict new materials to guide experimental research. 

Development and Optimization of 3D Printing Methods of Porous Carbon-Based Foams (Weems) 

3D printing has gained interest as a viable manufacturing technique of its own, however, there are limited types of processable materials available for use. If these limits can be overcome, there is significant potential for advancements in human health by producing novel medical devices and environmental remediation that need porous media. This potential can be further realized through a combination of polymer science, materials engineering, and machine design, by designing both the necessary printer and studying compatible carbon-containing foams suitable for integrated layered structures with controlled porous morphologies. To date, the field has displayed minimal advancement with regards to porous material 3D printing in a single-process reactive technique that results in well-integrated, and therefore mechanically stable, 3D printed structures. In this project, a reactive foam 3D printer will be designed and optimized with the purpose of identifying methods of layer integration in demonstrated epoxide-based foams. 

Analysis of Carbon Material Properties via Spectroscopic and Crystallographic Characterization Techniques (Stinaff, Chen) 

The structure of carbon materials as well as the underlying carbon scaffolding material will be determined from small-angle X-Ray scattering and Raman spectroscopy using local instruments. To provide additional information about the structure of the amorphous material, structure factors for the material will also be measured through X-ray scattering and neutron scattering using the synchrotron X-rays at Argonne National Laboratory and the spallation neutron source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, respectively.  While most non-carbon elements are released in the manufacturing process, some impurities will remain. The chemical bonding and atomic structure of the impurities in the carbon materials will be examined using extended X-ray absorption fine structure analysis at Argonne National Laboratory. The stability of the materials and their structure will also be studied. The scientific goal is to obtain a systematic understanding of the carbon microstructure as a function of processing conditions. Such information will be essential to optimize the materials for application. 

Micromechanics Approach to Carbon-based Composites Development (Wisner, Weems) 

Development of novel material systems requires a detailed understanding of the microstructure and its evolution in response to external loads. This project aims to identify the mechanics of material failure in carbon-based foams and composites by using multiscale Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) tools including Acoustic Emission (AE) and Digital Image Correlation (DIC). Damage nucleation and evolution will be monitored to determine the microscale response of the material and impacts to properties including elastic modulus and fatigue response. Investigations will be conducted at both bulk and microscales to link the micromechanics to the global behavior.  This level of understanding will be critical to create microstructure-property linkages that can be leveraged to create carbon-based materials for custom purposes. This work will be extended to investigate mechanisms behind carbon foam and composite materials as well.  

Finite Element Study of Functionally Graded Composite Cellular Foams (Ali,  Alam) 

In product design, from conception to real-world application, the finite element analysis method has proven to be one of the most cost-effective and least time-consuming approach in design exploration, convergence, and optimization. In this project, finite element approach will be adopted to study the thermal, electrical, and structural response of functionally graded open and closed cell carbon-based foams. Foams will be characterized to determine material properties to support numerical models. Models will be validated, and analyses will be conducted with appropriate initial and boundary conditions to determine the electrical, thermal, and structural behavior of the functionally graded carbon composites. If successful, this project will provide insightful information on potential application of functionally graded composite and carbon cellular foams in cladding, solar panels, and structural components where high strength to weight ratio is highly desired.  

Carbon Quantum Dots for Sensor and Energy Applications (Staser) 

Carbon quantum dots (CQDs) are nanoscale carbon materials that possess interesting optical and electrical properties. Often on the order of 5-25 nm in diameter, CQDs can be synthesized by several different processes from a wide range of carbon sources, including legacy mining materials.  Their unique optical and electrical properties afford CQDs application in a wide range of systems, including cell imaging and drug delivery, for electrochemical UV sensing, and for electrochemical capacitor electrodes. A GAANN Fellow will have the opportunity to work on carbon quantum dot research during their program. Specifically, the GAANN Fellow will work closely with the faculty mentor to refine existing and develop novel techniques to synthesize CQDs from coal and pet coke, with an eye toward making the process more economically efficient and environmentally friendly. CQD surface properties will be characterized and evaluated for a range of applications including UV sensors, electrochemical capacitor electrodes, and as conductive supports for other photosensitive materials.   

Thermoset-based Carbon Composites for Building and Energy Applications (Daramola) 

Some current approaches to green buildings include the use of engineered wood composites made up of wood particles/fibers held together using adhesives including phenolic and polyurethane-based thermosets. An alternative approach could use waste carbon materials with adhesives modified to possess the appropriate functionality for carbon-thermoset bond formation. This approach minimizes energy usage for wood residue generation and water absorption potential of the final composite. In this project, the fellow will learn polymer synthesis, composite fabrication and mechanical and thermal property analyses to build structure-property-processing relationships. The goal is to develop an engineered carbon-based composite that can provide similar or superior properties to engineered wood based on tensile, flexural and thermal properties for building applications. 

Solar Photovoltaic Building Materials made from Low Density Electrically Conductive Carbon Materials (Trembly, Kremer, Drabold) 

Solar photovoltaic (PV) devices hold great promise to provide U.S. energy security while reducing GHG emissions. Solar PV generation increased by 22% in 2019, and annual growth rate of 15% is projected through 2030. Most U.S. solar power installations are large centralized systems and do not address grid vulnerabilities, such as the impact of extreme weather events. Distributed PV installations in homes, buildings, and industry address grid vulnerability; however, distributed solar PV installation capacity has trailed centralized facilities due to cost. Spray-on PV materials, such as perovskites, offer potential to significantly reduce distributed solar PV costs if they can be integrated into building materials. Carbon foam materials have been shown to be electrically conductive and recent research by OHIO has demonstrated continuously manufactured carbon foam made from legacy mining wastes can be made electrically conductive. Drabold and his team will collaborate with us on atomistic modeling of transport in these materials.  This project will assess the ability for carbon foam materials to be made into electrically conductive cladding or roofing materials that may be integrated with spray-on perovskite PV materials. Carbon foam formulations and treatment conditions will be investigated to evaluate both mechanical and electrical properties in accordance with ASTM specification.    

Functionalization and Novel Properties of Carbon-Based Materials (Stinaff, Chen, Drabold) 

The various allotropes of carbon display a wide range of useful properties from the hardness of diamond to the extraordinary conductivity of graphene. The goal of this work is to exploit these properties by combining specific structural forms of carbon with other materials. For example, using the porous structure of carbon foam material may provide a framework to incorporate layered materials such as two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). Combining the semiconducting properties of TMDs with the conductive carbon material could lead to applications such as photovoltaics, energy storage, and photocatalysis. We will study the use of carbon materials as hosts for the incorporation of functional materials, such as TMDs, through various techniques such as chemical and/or physical vapor deposition. We will also work closely with theory to model interactions between materials and guide the processing of the carbon material as well as the material incorporation. 

Sustainable Systems Design – Pursuing Net-zero Carbon for Structural Materials and Systems in the International Construction Industry (Kremer, Trembly, Daramola)  

According to the World Green Building Council, buildings are currently responsible for about 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, with about 70% of that amount from operational emissions (after construction) and about 30% from embodied emissions (cradle to occupancy).  Business as usual projections predict near parity between embodied and operational carbon by 2050, demonstrating a need for sustainable design innovations that address total life cycle carbon.  This project will pursue system-level innovations in construction materials and methods that bring together the functional needs of a building system, improvements in embodied carbon assessments, improvements in building information modeling/monitoring and data analytics, and various existing and proposed means of energy harvesting for system-level efficiencies.  Outputs from this project, in addition to prototype development of new building systems that minimize total life cycle carbon include further development of a “Design for Practical Sustainability” methodology that leverages existing work evaluating environmental product declarations to develop more practical measures of sustainability that reduce issues of misinformation such as those that resulted in actual levels of plastics recycling being much lower than predictions.