Amma Kankam '22 Wins AIChE Poster Contest

For her poster outlining her lab group’s research on reducing nitrate contamination, Amma Kankam ‘22 won first place in the Environmental Sciences session at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Undergraduate Student Poster Competition. 

Nitrate contamination in water is disruptive to the environment - it causes eutrofication (an excess of nutrients), the disruption of the nitrogen cycle, and it also poses risks to human health that can result in endocrine disorders. For the poster competition, which was held in Boston, Kankam outlined her research team’s work on electrocatalytic conversion of wastewater, and how it compares to conventional methods of treating nitrate contamination. Kankam works in the lab of Menachem Elimelech, the Sterling Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, 

The problem with conventional nitrate treatment methods is that they mostly separate the nitrate from the wastewater. “What that does is it creates a concentrated waste stream that you just have to dump back into the environment again,” said Kankam, whose mentor on the project was Lea Winter, a postdoctoral fellow and soon-to-be faculty member in chemical and environmental engineering. 

Instead of separating the nitrate from the water, the Elimelech group looked at using electrocatalytic conversion to transform the nitrate into ammonium. The research team found that by using membranes with transition metal oxynitrides, they could successfully reduce the nitrate. Further, by adding reduced graphene oxide, they could improve the electrochemical activity of the catalyst. 

For future work, the researchers plan to explore the use of electrified membranes and optimize permeability, conductivity, and mechanical stability.