AMHERST, Mass. – Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have recently published computer simulations predicting that heating chemicals with microwaves can lead to new, environmentally-friendly technologies. These involve separations of mixtures absorbed in sponge-like solids, by heating only one component in the mixture with microwaves, thus forcing that component to leave the sponge. Such processes can lead to energy savings because the method avoids heating the entire system.
The research team includes chemistry graduate student Cristian Blanco and associate chemistry professor Scott Auerbach, who is also an adjunct professor in chemical engineering. These scientists performed “molecular dynamics” computer simulations, which portray the jiggling motions of atoms in complex systems. The sponges they studied are called zeolites, which are made of the same atoms as in sand and glass, but are shaped with regular, perfectly sized pores that serve as precise filters, allowing some molecules to pass through, while screening others out.
Blanco and Auerbach found that when two different chemicals were simulated in zeolite pores under microwave radiation, it is possible to maintain the two chemicals at completely different temperatures.
“This opens up the possibility of using microwave energy to produce new, energy-efficient technologies by aiming the energy at a small subset of the entire chemical system,” said Auerbach. This modeling research was inspired by microwave experiments taking place also at UMass, in the lab of associate professor W. Curtis Conner of the chemical engineering department. “This computer modeling work has demonstrated that microwave-driven zeolite systems can indeed exhibit remarkably new and useful properties, as has also been shown by our experiments,” said Conner.
Blanco and Auerbach’s findings will be published as a rapid communication in the prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society.
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