Project: Advanced Characterisation of Small Molecule Adsorption on Complex Solid Materials

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are a class of chemical species commonly released to the atmosphere through industrial processes such as chemical and solvent production, as well as household sources like paints, dyes, coatings and sealants. Due to their wide range of emission points, these compounds make up a significant portion of the airspace experienced by humans. Elevated levels of VOCs have been linked to both acute and chronic conditions, most of which are associated with the symptoms of ‘sick building syndrome’, including headaches, skin and eye irritation, and hypersensitivity.

Removal of these compounds is most commonly carried out using adsorption, but the headspace of indoor air poses a unique challenge- high levels of humidity. Water vapour exists in concentrations several orders of magnitude greater than those of VOCs, and adsorbents for air cleaning must retain their performance even with significant competition from water.

This project, as part of the Advanced Characterisation of Materials CDT, has two primary focuses. First, the development of novel techniques for measuring the adsorption interactions of materials with complex headspaces consisting of multiple volatile species and an excess water vapour. Second, using these techniques to characterise the interactions of harmful species with a range of solid materials: industrial adsorbents, such as activated charcoals and zeolites; and household materials, such as cotton, polyester, and polypropylene. By understanding how these materials adsorb VOCs in real-world conditions, important design and screening decisions can be made for the application of air cleaning.