Grand Prize Winner in the Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Competition

Ph.D. Candidate Nicole Tratnik won first prize in the Excellence in Thermoset Polymers Research Competition hosted by the Thermoset Resin Formulators Association for her paper titled “Recyclable, self-strengthening starch-based epoxy vitrimer facilitated by exchangeable disulfide bonds”. She was flown out to Denver, CO to present her work at the TRFA Annual Meeting with over 120 attendees. Her award-winning paper can be found here.

Congratulations Nicole!

You can read more about the news on the UofT Chem Eng website here.

New Article: Transient and recyclable organic microwave resonator using nanocellulose for 5G and Internet of Things applications

A new article from Ning Yan’s lab has been published in Chemical Engineering Journal written by Nicolas R. Tanguy, Maryam Moradpour, Mandeep C. Jain, Ning Yan, and Mohammad H. Zarifi.

The article can be accessed for free until June 13, 2023 by clicking here.


The rapid development of electronics has caused the accumulation of electronic waste that is threatening the environment and human health. The deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT), enabled by 5G microwave communication technology, will involve an increasing number of electronic devices. Microwave communication devices consist of petroleum/ceramic-based substrates and metallic traces that are non-biodegradable. Here, we report a smart, flexible, and transient organic microwave resonator (TOMR) using cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) nanopaper as substrate and poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):polystyrene sulfonate (PEDOT:PSS) as conducting trace. The device produced a resonant profile with the maximum transmission coefficient (S21) amplitude of −14.95 dB at a resonant frequency of 2.75 GHz under ambient conditions (20 °C, 30% relative humidity (RH)). The TOMR demonstrated sensing capabilities, wherein increasing the %RH modulated the device’s resonant amplitude (-29 mdB/%RH from 0% to 50% RH and −90 mdB/%RH from 50% to 90% RH) and resonant frequency (3600 kHz/%RH). Moreover, the PEDOT:PSS trace could be reclaimed, recycled, and redeposited on a CNF nanopaper, which enabled the fabrication of a TOMR that displayed a similar resonant profile. Hence, this study demonstrates the first transient organic microwave resonator embedded with sensing capabilities and introduces a framework to minimize the environmental impact of 5G microwave communication devices for the IoT.

Placed in Student Poster Competition at SPE,EAV Conference

We are happy to announce our Ph.D Candidate, Nicole Tratnik, won 5th place in the student poster competition at the SPE,EAV Plastics in Electric & Autonomous Vehicles Conference. Her poster was titled, “Enhanced sustainability of upcycleable biobased epoxy vitrimers with designed recyclability” and was based off of her recently published paper that can be found here.
Congrats Nicole!

New Article: Fully biodegradable, hydrophobic, enhanced barrier starch bio-composites with sandwich structure by simulating wood

A new article from Ning Yan’s lab has been published in Industrial Crops and Products written by Chuanwei Zhang, Pengfei Zhang, Yanhui Li, S. Nair Sandeep, Jianyong Li, Maocheng Ji, Sixian Peng, Ning Yan, and Fangyi Li.

You can find the article here.


Through a single-sided cavity free-form foaming process, composites with open cell structures similar to wood cells were obtained by using corn starch, pulp fiber, and sisal fibers, which was used as the middle layer of the sandwiched composites. Afterwards, more hydrophobic lignin-containing nanocellulose fibrils from pine bark were coated on the surfaces of the open cell composites by high-pressure gun spraying, simulating the bark of wood to impart barrier property to the final product. The water barrier, mechanical property, apparent density, heat insulation, and biodegradability of the sandwich structured bio-composites were characterized. Experimental results indicated that the water contact angle on the surface of the bio-composite was as high as 92°. The apparent density of the bio-composite was very low, at 0.107 g/cm3. The tensile strength of the bio-composites reached 5.3 MPa. After conducting biodegradability tests in soil for 60 days, the bio-composites lost 87 % of its mass.

New Article: Non-cytotoxic lanthanum and nitrogen co-doped lignin-based carbon dots for selective detection of ions in biological imaging

A new article out of a collaboration between Dr. Ning Yan and Dr. Jing Chen’s labs has been published in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering written by Xiaojun Zhang, Jialong Wu, Manxiang Wu, Lianfu Wang, Dayu Yu, Ning Yan, Huiming Wu, Jin Zhu, and Jing Chen.

You can find the article here


Owing to their versatility, fluorescent carbon quantum dots (CQDs) have attracted significant attention for applications in sensors, bioimaging, microfluidics, photodynamic therapy, drug delivery, light-emitting diode, etc. Herein, nitrogen and lanthanum co-doped multifunctional lignin-based carbon quantum dots ((N, La)-CQDs) were prepared from enzymatic hydrolysis lignin using a simple one-step hydrothermal method. The diameter of the CQDs obtained was about 2.2 nm with a good water solubility at the excitation wavelength of around 365 nm and emission wavelength of around 465 nm. This is the first discovery of (N, La)-CQDs to detect Sn2+. (N, La)-CQDs were successfully used to detect Fe3+, Sn2+, and ClO ions in the range of 0–100 μM with the detection limits of 0.99 μM, 1.1 μM and 1.1 μM sequentially, and the linear fit R2 of 0.9997, 0.9943 and 0.9941 respectively. Non-cytotoxic (N, La)-CQDs can be used for labeling cells and detecting Sn2+ in zebrafish. These attractive features make these non-toxic, environmentally friendly CQDs material highly promising for applications in a wide range of areas, such as biomedicine, biosensing, disease diagnosis, and environmental monitoring.

New Article: Low-temperature torrefaction assisted with solid-state KOH/urea pretreatment for accelerated methane production in wheat straw anaerobic digestion

A new article out of a collaboration between Dr. Ning Yan and Dr. Heyu Chen’s labs has been published in Bioresource Technology Journal written by Zhijiang Shao, Pitchaimari Gnanasekar, Nicole Tratnik, Nicolas R. Tanguy, Xiaohui Guo, Mingqiang Zhu, Ling Qiu, Ning Yan, and Heyu Chen.

You can find the article here.


Low-temperature torrefaction assisted with solid-state KOH/urea applied onto wheat straw was proposed to break down the lignocellulosic material to enhance biomethane production in anaerobic digestion (AD). The optimization of key parameters applying the Box-Behnken design and response surface method showed that an addition of 0.1 g/gstraw KOH/urea at 180 ℃ while torrefying for 30 min was the optimal condition for producing biomethane. Results indicate that co-applying KOH and urea in torrefaction synergistically enhanced the biodegradability of straw by effectively removing lignin and largely retaining cellulose, giving rise to a 41 % increase in the cumulative methane production compared to untreated straw (213 mL/g-volatile solids (VSraw)) from batch AD. Additionally, the nitrogen- and potassium-rich digestates helped to improve soil fertility, thus achieving a zero-waste discharge. This study demonstrated the feasibility of using solid-state KOH/urea assisted low-temperature torrefaction as an effective pretreatment method to promote methane production during AD.

International Women’s Day Gala hosted by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE)

Join WISE on Wednesday, March 8th from 6 – 10 pm at our annual International Women’s Day Gala!

This formal event commemorates the incredible achievements of women everywhere with the promise of great conversations, inspirational speakers, a stunning performance, and a delicious dinner. Tickets for the event can be purchased here: Early bird tickets are currently on sale, get them while they last!

New Article: Multifunctional superhydrophilic/underwater superoleophobic lignin-based polyurethane foam for highly efficient oil-water separation and water purification

A new article out of a collaboration between Dr. Ning Yan and Dr. Jing Chen’s labs has been published in Separation and Purification Technology Journal written by Jing Chen, Jialong Wu, Yinyan Zhong, Xiaozhen Ma, Wanrong Lv, Honglong Zhao, Jin Zhu, and Ning Yan.

You can find the article here.


Superwettability can affect the performance of oil separation from water during the treatment of oily wastewater. Among various types of materials developed for cleaning oil pollution, foam is a popular choice due to its attractive lightweight properties and adjustable porosities. Foams with superwetting surfaces (superhydrophilic/superoleophobic underwater) are ideal for oil/water separations. In this study, lignin-based polyurethane foams (LPUFs) were synthesized first, and then polydopamine particles were deposited on the surface of the foam by in situ polymerization under weak alkaline conditions to increase its surface roughness. Afterwards, phytic acid was used to modify the foam to achieve surface superhydrophilicity and underwater superoleophobicity. Successful loading of polydopamine (PDA) particles and coating of phytic acid (PA) onto the foam was demonstrated by SEM, EDS, FTIR, XPS, and thermogravimetric analysis measurements. It was shown in the cyclic compression tests that LPUFs had good mechanical properties. Under 75 % compression strain, the maximum stress in the first cycle of LPUF/PDA/PA was 105.92 kPa. After 30 cyclic compression tests, the maximum stress of LPUF/PDA/PA under 75 % compression strain was 105.63 kPa, demonstrating a high mechanical stability. The contact angle of the foam modified by PDA and PA was 0° for water, 166.7° for chloroform, and 158.4° for hexane, which also demonstrated excellent underwater anti-oil adhesion performances. Oil-water separation tests by using PDA and PA modified lignin-based foam with mixtures of water and n-hexane, cyclohexane, toluene, and pump oil indicated a separation efficiency of over 99 % for the types of mixtures tested together with excellent repeatability. In addition, the PDA and PA modified lignin-based foams were able to adsorb 67.1 mg/g of methylene blue, 96.1 mg/g of rhodamine B, and 98.2 mg/g of copper sulfate. The lignin-based foam could completely degrade under weak alkaline conditions after usage. This study highlighted a novel strategy for synthesizing environmentally friendly high-performance adsorbents to efficiently treat polluted wastewater using lignin as a raw material.