Philipp Niemeyer, PhD candidate at DLR: “Give your best to become part of a big European research project”
Philipp Niemeyer, PhD candidate at DLR, won the poster award on the Third International Seminar on Aerogels on 23 September 2016. His research at the Institute of Materials Research at DLR in Cologne is part of the NanoHybrids project. Philipp spoke to the NanoHybrids press team.
Philipp, please tell us: What was this seminar about?
The 3rd International Seminar on Aerogels 2016 was about the broad research field of aerogels, sol-gel-science and (mainly) supercritical drying. Over two days there were two parallel sessions, posters were presented, there was a session focussing on the aerogel industry and some aerogel artwork was presented.
Congratulations to winning the poster award. What was your poster about?
The title of my poster was ‘Chitosan-based aerogels as reversible CO2 adso
rbents’. I presented part of my work for the European Union research project NanoHybrids. Chitosan is a polysaccharide and is produced from exoskeletons of marine crustaceans. Chitosan-based aerogels can selectively adsorb carbon dioxide from air. Regeneration takes place at temperatures around 120°C.
How can this be used?
I want to innovate cabin air conditioning in airplanes. Currently the CO2 level caused by exhalation of passengers is diluted per 50% by fresh air. The fresh air needs to be transferred from external pressure of 0,2 bar at cruising altitude to cabin pressure of 0,75 bar. The only way to bring the fresh air in involves the engine. Thus energy efficiency of the engine decreases.
I want to regenerate the cabin air inside of the cabin with a chitosan based aerogel filter system. It can be implemented in already existing filter systems and thus we are able to enter a market already existing. In the end, only a small amount of fresh air needs to be imported via the engine and this will enhance its energy efficiency.
This gives me an idea why the DLR, the German Aerospace Research Centre does research on aerogels. We’d like to know more about the focus of the Institute of Materials research at DLR.
Beyond aeroplanes our institute also focuses on energy and transportation. The aerogels can be used in a wide variety of environmental control systems. They cannot only adsorb CO2 but also adjust air humidity. This is not relevant in airplanes where humidity is usually low; but in South Asian subways e.g. air humidity often is too high. Here aerogels could reduce the humidity and bring more comfort for the passengers.
Besides aerogels and aerogel composites, another research focus of the Institute of Materials Research is in the areas of metallic structures, hybrid systems and intermetallics, structural and functional ceramics, thermoelectric systems and high-temperature and functional layers.
What are you doing there?
Since 2015 I am a PhD student of the aerogel department focussing on polysaccharide aerogels. One of the projects I am working for is the European Union research project NanoHybrids. In this context I am developing strategies for high throughput production of aerogel particles. My plan is to successfully finish my PhD in summer 2018.
What do you like about your work?
I like our team spirit very much. Our labs are well equipped and I am free to use our resources to investigate and develop as many ideas and aerogels as I can every day.
You highlight a lot of interesting potential applications for chitosan aerogels. For whom of the industry partners of NanoHybrids might this be interesting?
Dräger should definitely be interested. Many of their safety products rely on filter systems which can absorb chemicals from air. Chitosan based aerogels are pretty active on chemistry. Apart from CO2 they can also absorb a number of toxic chemicals. Thus they could offer an alternative to existing solutions at Dräger.
Arçelik also could be interested. Arçelik is a household appliances manufacturer. Chitosan aerogels could serve to improve the drying process by adsorbing a high amount of the water. Chitosans are biological inactive. Bacteria which tend to like the humid atmosphere in dishwasher don’t like to grow on chitosan. This is an advantage above other adsorbing materials.
That sounds promising. I would be also interested in another aspect of the chitosan aerogels. You said they come from crustacea. Will this cause a problem for our marine environment?
No, it is not a problem at all, but a benefit. Chitosan is produced from the exoskeletons of crustacea which are harvested for food purposes. Usually the exoskeleton needs to be disposed as waste. By using the chitosan for industrial applications we turn this waste into a resource.
But will there be enough chitosan from waste for the amount needed by industrial applications?
Yes, there is way more chitosan from waste than needed in industry.
I see, thus it will be also a rather cheap source and able to reduce production costs.
Let’s go back to the 3rd International Seminar on Aerogels. What did you take home from the seminar?
During the seminar I had the chance to meet many respected researchers from the field of aerogels in person. Some very exciting discussions and exchanges of ideas were the results. In addition to that I had the chance to speak to representatives of the aerogel industry. Their future outlook, need of properties and their strategy were some of the topics we spoke about.
What do you think why did your poster win the award? What is the secret of your success?
Don’t be afraid asking a question in front of the aerogel community. The more people are listening to your question the higher is the chance of receiving a good answer. That is my motto. Contact and exchange with other researchers enormously motivate me and often lead to more and better output.
What would you like to highlight about it?
Never ever stop asking your most important questions.
Are there any other success factors?
Yes. We get a very good training in preparing well-structured presentations and publications in our DLR_Graduate_Program. I built on this training and remained sticking to a well-known structure for my poster.
What has been your favourite poster at the symposium?
Let me think. I would choose the one from Lucile Druel, it has been on starch aerogels. I liked her type of presentation. She did a good job in visualisation.
How does your research and your poster contribute to the Nanohybrids project?
My poster communicated the idea and parts of the content of NanoHybrids to the aerogel community. My research focus for the NanoHybrids project is in the development of a reliable process for bead production. This process should be versatile and easy to adapt for our research and industry partners to their chemistry.
What do you like in Nanohybrids?
I like the internationality of our consortium. Research and industry partners are from Germany, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Russia, Greece and Turkey. All together we concentrate so much knowhow that we will increase the technology readiness level until we will reach a successful pilot plant for aerogel particle production. My personal highlights are the internal seminars for PhD students.
What are your plans for the future?
I am aiming for a job in the industry, preferably in the aerogels industry. It is a very exciting feeling for me when technology readiness levels are increased step by step until a successful aerogel product is developed.
Thanks a lot, is there anything you would like to tell to our audience?
Give your best to become part of a big European research project . There is a great chance in participating in multi-disciplinary European research projects and especially in NanoHybrids. We have a huge consortium with nice participants coming from both, industry and research. It is a unique chance to work with them and participate in problem solving dedicated to just one aim. I am happy to be part of it from the beginning and to see the process until the end of NanoHybrids.
Thank you Philipp, it was a pleasure talking to you and I got much more insights into your part of NanoHybrids now. I am also looking forward to the progress of NanoHybrids and to meeting you at the next NanoHybrids meeting.