Research Funding on Municipal Solid Waste Incineration Ashes

Given the growing world population and urban density, management of municipal solid waste is becoming an increasingly difficult issue. One way to approach handling of all this solid waste is to incinerate it for energy as is done in Waste-to-Energy plants. However, the residual ash (bottom and fly ash) post combustion of this waste is unused and often sent to the landfill. There is potential in utilizing this ash for several commercial applications if its chemical composition and mineralogy could be understood in detail.

SEM image of an ash sample which is a complex mixture of multiple amorphous and crystalline phases with a distinct morphology.

Garg Group has recently received funding from Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) for a two year project (2021-2023) for investigating the chemistry of these ashes and then identifying composition dependent end uses. The project is titled RADAR-X (Rapid AI-based Dissection of Ashes using Raman and XRF Spectroscopy). This is an interdisciplinary project in collaboration with Prof. Jeffery Roesler, Dr. Brajendra K. Sharma, and Prof. Lav Varshney. This project will build upon the findings from an earlier project on municipal solid waste which was seed funded by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Some more information on this new project can be found here.

We are excited to continue our efforts in this field to make our world a sustainable world!

Seed Funding on Self-Healing Concrete

Over time, concrete pavements can be subject to cracking and deterioration. One approach to avoid these cracks is to employ a self-healing concrete that can repair on its own. However, several challenges remain before an effective and reliable self-healing concrete system can be deployed in the field.

Garg Group has recently received seed funding from the STII (Smart Transportation Infrastructure Initiative) which is currently developing the I-ACT (Illinois Autonomous and Connected Track, see video below). We will be working in collaboration with Prof. Ramez Hajj from the Transportation Engineering area within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UIUC.

Overview of I-ACT located at the village of Rantoul, Illinois. (Source: Video embedded from the STII website)

We are excited to venture into the field of self-healing materials!

Research Funding on Crack-Sealing and Sealants

Concrete used in bridge decks can often be subject to cracking over the years due to many factors such as (but not limited to) shrinkage, excessive loading, and so on. One way to tackle these cracks is to seal them with polymeric sealants to avoid ingress of harmful (and corrosive) species into the structure. However, such sealants can have a limited lifespan requiring frequent crack-sealing over the bridge’s life.

Garg Group has recently obtained funding to study and characterize these sealants in order to determine optimal and desired properties in these polymeric systems. Additionally, we will explore methods to improve crack-sealing procedures and measure the efficacy of these practices in the field, in partnership with our industrial partner ERI. This research will be conducted with the Illinois Center for Transportation and has been funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

We are excited to venture into the field of crack-sealing and sealants, and work towards a long-lasting and sustainable transportation infrastructure.

Research Funding on Concrete Curing

Concrete is one of the most ubiquitious construction materials due to the widespread availability of its ingredients and economics associated with its procuring and placement. However, all concrete must undergo curing over several days to achieve desired performance in terms of strength and durability. This conventional practice can add delays to projects where rapid deployment of a structure is desired such as opening of a highway or a bridge to the traffic.

Garg Group has recently obtained funding to study this issue and explore methods by which concrete cure times can be effectively reduced. Significant advances can be made by understanding the cement hydration process and the evolution of porosity over the curing duration. In partnership with Illinois Center for Transportation, the work is funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

We are excited to venture into the field of optimizing and advancing concrete structures present in our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Funding for Transforming Campus into a Living Lab

Interest in deploying light-weight materials for engineering infrastructure has been gaining momentum over the past decades, with a focus on new materials, sustainable and innovative design, as well as low life-cycle energy. An adaptive system can change shape in response to environmental stimuli and a deployable system can be quickly installed in extreme conditions. An example of a system that can be both adaptive and deployable is a tensegrity structure, which is primarily composed of bars and cables held in a state of self-stress.

Below are some sample tensegrity structures:

a) A T3-prism [Source: Wiki Creative Commons]
b) Needle tower by Kenneth Snelson [Source: Wiki Creative Commons]
c) An adaptive, deployable structure by A. Sychterz) [Source: EPFL]

Garg Group in collaboration with SMARTI lab led by Prof. Sychterz has recently obtained funding from the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) to pursue the development of a bike parking canopy that is planned to be installed adjacent to the Newmark Civil Engineering Lab Building on UIUC campus. The material of choice for this project will be an aluminum alloy which has a high strength-to-weight ratio. Structural design of the tensegrity structure will be led by Prof. Sychterz and optimization of the aluminum alloy selection will be led by Prof. Garg. 

We are excited to venture into this new field of tensegrity structures, aluminum alloys, and their potential applications for sustainable construction! 

Seed Funding on Municipal Solid-Waste

Efficient management of municipal solid waste involves primarily three practices: landfilling, recycling, and incineration for energy recovery (waste-to-energy or WTE). Out of the ~250 million tons of waste produced each year in the US, approximately 140 million tons is landfilled, 80 million tons is recycled, and 30 million tons is incinerated for energy.  This alternative to traditional waste management (“Waste-to-Energy”) is gaining traction, but remains less than sustainable: The ash generated as a result of incineration can be dangerous to handle and expensive to dispose of. Often, the ash ends up in landfills.

Garg Group has recently been awarded seed funding from the Institute of Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at the University of Illinois to explore the use of these ashes as building materials in construction. Prof. Garg in collaboration with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center will be utilizing this funding to seek external grants.

We are excited to venture into this important and critical field of waste management.

Research Funding on Concrete Subject to Neutron Radiation

Long term exposure to neutron radiation can lead to degradation of the concrete which is commonly employed in the structural elements of a nuclear power plant. Understanding and predicting this degradation, which is induced due to residual stresses and internal cracking, is the key to long term operation of the US nuclear fleet.

The group has recently obtained funding from the Department of Energy, Nuclear Energy University Program (DOE NEUP) for a three-year project to closely examine effects of neutron radiation on the microstructure of concrete specimens. The University of Illinois is leading this research project and will be working in close collaboration with the University of Tenessee at Knoxville, Oak Ridge National Lab, and KLA-Tencor. The project duration is from October 2019 to September 2022.

We are looking forward to exciting research in the world of radiation-induced damage.