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NASA EPSCoR research awards support research activities that make significant contributions to the strategic research and technology development priorities of one or more of the Mission Directorates or the Office of the Chief Technologist, and contribute to the overall research infrastructure, science and technology capabilities, higher education, and economic development of the Jurisdiction. The projects are expected move increasingly towards gaining support from sources outside NASA EPSCoR by aggressively pursuing additional funding opportunities offered by NASA, industry, other federal agencies, and elsewhere. The maximum funding that can be requested from NASA is $750,000 per proposal to be expended over three years. Cost-sharing is required at a level of at least 50% of the requested NASA funds.

Project Title: Enabling technologies for water reclamation in future long-term space missions: wastewater resource recovery for energy generation

Science PI: Dr. Eduardo Nicolau, UPR Río Piedras

Period: October 2014 – September 2017

This proposal is responsive to the goals of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. In this research we explore on the development of integrated (i.e. hybrid) technologies for the purification of wastewater while generating electrical energy during the same process. The general motivation for this project lies on reports from the NASA-Advanced Life Support Systems Division (NASA ALS) highlighting that the main objective to fulfill sustainability in future space missions is “to develop fully regenerative integrated system technologies that provide air, water and resource recovery from wastes”2. However, the recovery or recycling of unused contaminants (i.e. resource recovery) into useful resources remains a challenge and more research and development is sought. The main objective of the proposed project is to gain insights and to explore on the integration of water and energy systems in order to obtain electrical energy and valuable resources from emerging contaminants in wastewater (e.g. ammonia). In general, the proposed project seeks to employ fuel cell hardware as osmotic microreactors (osmotic fuel cells, OsFC). Our hypotheses are mainly under TRL 1 to 4 research work due the fundamental research questions that will be unveiled and tested under laboratory environment. In order to achieve the overall objective of this research we will test the feasibility of this approach by accomplishing two main specific aims: 1) fabrication and characterization of catalytic (Pt) nanodiamond membranes (CnDM) for passive wastewater purification systems and 2) evaluation of CnDM as osmotic fuel cells (OsFC) microreactors: energy harvesting from components in wastewater. The proposed research is innovative as it will address a serious effort to couple specific membrane-based water purification methods along with fuel cell hardware integration that were not previously accounted for. The combined results of this investigation will shed new light on the development of integrated systems to address resource recovery from wastewater in space flight applications. This research is also pertinent to analytical environmental chemistry and analysis, specifically for the degradation of emerging contaminants in water.

Project Title: Carbon Dioxide Storage and Sustained Delivery by Porous Pillar-Layered Structure Coordination Polymers and Metal Organic Frameworks

Science PI: Dr. Arturo Hernández-Maldonado, UPR Mayagüez

Period: December 2012 – December 2015

This research project will develop nanoporous materials capable of providing low volume/pressure CO2 storage with on-demand delivery and minimal energy input. Hence, this proposal aims at enhancing NASA’s capabilities for long-term exploration missions, specifically those related to human life support and in situ resource utilization. The specific objectives include the synthesis and characterization of porous coordination pillared-layer polymers (PCPs) and metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) using redox- and photo-active structural building units (SBU) and surface functional groups for optimized CO2 storage and delivery (TRL1). This is a novel approach to enhance CO2 storage in a minimally powered, on-demand delivery fashion. We will study and optimize CO2 equilibrium and dynamic uptake for these materials at conditions that will address NASA’s needs for possible implementation. Furthermore, we will scale-up the synthetic protocols and develop testbeds at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) and Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) facilities (TRL2 and 3). Selected adsorbents will be also subject to broader and integrated testing at ARC and/or MSFC, thereby leveraging on-going NASA Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) funded activities. We envision that the scope of this project will be eventually expanded to include terrestrial applications. Efficient CO2 storage methods will be of utmost necessity for climate change mitigation, mine safety, atmospheric control in enclosed spaces, military applications, and synthetic fuel and high value chemicals production. Finally, the graduate students, undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows that will be involved in this project will receive training in a cutting-edge technology development and will acquire skills transferable to industrial and academic settings. Therefore, this project will contribute to the efforts of the Institute for Functional Nanomaterials (IFN) with research in the area of nanotechnology aimed at the development of nanoporous materials for environmental remediation that will also be useful for the NASA Space Exploration Program.

Project Title:Nanostructured III-N Solar Cells for Space Applications

Science PI: Dr. Maharaj Tomar, UPR Mayagüez

Period: October 2010 – September 2014

This research project will enhance our understanding of the fundamental material processes and charge transport of III-N based semiconductors and nanostructures for high efficiency solar cells.

III-N semiconductors inherently have great radiation hardness and high breakdown fields. They provide opportunity for band gap engineering ranging from 0.7 eV (InN) to 3.8 eV (GaN), and InxGa1-xN solid solution that can cover the entire visible and near infrared solar spectrum. Therefore, GaN/InxGa1-xN based single and double junction solar cells with higher radiation hardness can be fabricated. Theoretical predictions state that over 60% electrical conversion efficiencies may be achieved by photon induced transitions in intermediate bands. The theoretical criteria suggest that intermediate bands could be achieved by introducing suitable nanoparticles into the InxGa1-xN host. MOCVD and molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) will be used for material growth. We will study the (a) kinetics and growth of InxGa1-xN b) growth of nanostructures and quantum dots to create intermediate bands for multiple-excitation-generation, c) effective p- and n-doping in the InxGa1-xN system, and d) 2-D electron gas in GaN/ InxGa1-xN heterojunctions and their interfacial chemistry. This project is a collaborative between UPR Mayagüez, UPR Río Piedras and NASA Glenn Research Center. Moreover, it will contribute to the efforts of the Institute for Functional Nanomaterials (IFN) with research in the area of nanotechnology aimed at developing alternative sources of renewable energy to Puerto Rico that also are useful for the NASA Space Exploration Program.

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