Bert Hamelers, Program Director at Wetsus, has been appointed as a Professor Electrochemical Resource Recovery at ETE. On December 1st, 2020, he will start his new position, which is embedded in the chair Biological Recovery and Reuse Technology, led by Cees Buisman.
‘Electrochemistry is a great way to link sustainable energy to chemistry and separation’ Hamelers says. ‘One of the best-known examples is to produce hydrogen from water by electrolysis.’ In this reaction, water is split at the anode into oxygen (O2), protons (H+) and electrons. The electrons formed flow through a wire from the anode to the cathode, while the protons in the solution also migrate to the cathode where they are converted with the electrons into hydrogen gas (H2). Using the same principle, CO2 can be recovered from air and used as building block in fermentation reactions or in greenhouses to stimulate plant growth.
The ion currents that occur during electrochemical reactions offer many
possibilities to recover and separate resources. Typically, positive ions in
the solution will move to the cathode, while the negative ones go towards the anode. This principle can be used to remove ammonium (NH4+),
from urine and manure streams. By using a membrane that only allows the passage of ammonium ions in the solution, they will selectively move to the cathode. Here, ammonium is converted into ammonia gas (NH3) that can be harvested.
Hamelers is looking forward to the many challenges of his new position, which he will combine with his current activities at Wetus. ‘In addition to developing new technologies, my research will also focus on integrating concepts of electrochemistry with running projects at ETE, he says. ‘But I am also enthusiastic to contribute to education.’