Research Team

NALS team and associates (September 2018)
From Left to Right: Farzana Nargis, Saki Konod, Dominic (Nick) Reiffarth, Sara Darychuk, Lon Kerr,
Ann Duong, Sahar Ebadzadsahraei, Charles Bradshaw, Gangbin Yan, Simisola Idim, Hossein Kazemian, Erwin Rehl

Research Interests:

  • Environmental applications of industrial mineral (Zeolites, Clays)
  • New techniques for manufacturing of porous Zeolitic like framework materials (MOFs, ZIFs).
  • Drug Delivery on porous zeolitic materials
  • Synthetic zeolites, Nano-zeolites, Nanomaterials, and Nano Composite
  • CO2 Capturing using solid state porous materials
  • Nano Catalysts based on Porous materials
  • Environmental Researches, (Water, Air and Soil pollution; treatment processes)
  • Zeolitic Layers and Membrane
  • Biodiesel Production using solid catalysts based on porous materials
  • Natural zeolite (Characterization, Modifications, Properties and Applications)
  • Air polution measurment/analysis and control 

Some of the ongoing projects

Using industrial minerals inclding zeolites and clays to remove nutrients from contaminated water and wastewater to control lake eutrophication

Lake eutrophication is becoming a seriour environmental problem not only in Canada but also worldwide. The main objective of this research program is to develop efficient, inexpensive and eco-friendly mineral-based adsorbents to uptake nutrients (N and P) from contaminated water streams. 

Using Natural and modified zeolites to modify composting process

Composting has become one of the most common methods for solid waste managment becuase of its low operational cost and limited environemntal impct. Nutrient loss and generated malodors during the course of composting are considered as drawback of this process. We use natural and modified zeolites to imrpove composting process in order to controls malodors emission and produce a value-added compost with higher nutritents contents. 

Development of a zeolite-based antibacterial compound for water purification 

The World Health Organization estimates that 84200 people die each year as a results of drinking water contaminated with harmful bacteria (WHO2018). We developed a modified natural zeolite that is demonstrating effective elemination of bacterial in contaminated drinking water.

Addressing the Concern of Cyanobacteria Toxin Production: Methods of Prediction, Detection, Quantification, and Management of Microcystins

One of the significant issues caused by eutrophication in water bodies is a surge in toxin concentrations from cyanobacteria. This is worldwide issue that invariably affects isolated and resource-poor communities such as the small localities of Northern BC the most. Therefore the mitigation of toxins, particularly the most harmful, such as hepatotoxin Microcystin-LR to a level acceptable under Canadian (<1.5 ug/L) and universal (the WHO provisional standard of 1.0 ug/L) guidelines is of the utmost importance for public health. Due to seasonal variations, instrument availability and the type of infrastructure available, strategies for toxin management need to be adapted to suit the needs of the communities served where variables such as cost-efficiency, simplicity and fast turnaround time are crucial. The purpose of this study at the Northern Analytical Laboratory Services at the University of Northern British Columbia is to provide a comprehensive protocol to deliver an appropriate approach towards maintaining Microcystin-LR concentrations as a whole. To predict whether an algal bloom could cause a toxin overload, qPCR was used to analyze the abundance of toxin producing gene McyE, HPLC-MS with ELISA was used conjunctively to detect and quantify Microcystin-LR in the water, and Mn-modified zeolites were tested for toxin removal. Presently the goal is to develop a robust protocol that can have wide ranging applications not only in Microcystin-LR attenuation but that could be also applied to other toxins and causal compounds implicated in eutrophication such as ammonia and phosphates.


  Chemical Analysis of Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) Air Contaminants  

In this project, we developed analytical protocols for accurate sampling and measurements of the targeted air pollutants. PM2.5 samples are  analyzed for their chemical composition (i.e. toxic trace elements) by ICP-MS and VOC samples are analyzed by GC-MS using SMPE sample preparation technique in order to assess their potential source of emissions.

Some Projects in  collaboration with  the University of Western Ontario (UWO)

A novel combined manufacturing technique for rapid production of
Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFS)  using ultrasound and microwave energies

Different metal organic framework  (MOFs) were successfully synthesized by applying a combination of ultrasonic (UTS) and microwave (MW) energy sources for rapid synthesis under various operating conditions including: sonication time and temperature as well as microwave irradiation time. Moreover sample activation was employed to improve surface area of the synthesizedMOFs. In the case of IRMOF-1, while the highest Langmuir surface area of the as-synthesized samples was 1315 (m2/g) sample, surface area of the  activated sample was 2473 (m2/g). The reaction products were characterized by X-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscope (SEM), solid-state Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), and BET.

Developing of novel hybrid manufa​cturing techniques
To convert Coal Fly Ash (CFA) to zeolites ( Pilot scale)

From Lab scale ( batch-wise)
 to continuous bench scale

To Pilot Scale Reactor!
Currently, Canada produces 19 percent of the country's electricity with 13 percent of its greenhouse gas emission. using coal-fired power plants. Worldwide production of coal ash is estimated to be 600 million tons per year, of which 75–80% of the total produced ash is coal fly ash (CFA). Canada holds 8.7 billion tons of proven coal reserves, including 6.6 billion tons recoverable coal reserves, which will sustain more than 100 years of production at the current production rate. In addition, about 193 billion tons of coal resources have been identified. Disposal of CFA which is a submicron powder has become an increasing economical and environmental burden. This implies that finding techno-economically viable methods to treat CFA in a safe manner is an urgent need for the relevant industries. In recent decades, efforts have been exerted to explore potential new applications for the coal ash in cements and concretes, roadbed, and as gas absorbents and fertilizers. The global average profitable usage of fly ash is about 15-20% of the total ash. This means that 80-85% of fly ash is disposed of in landfills at a huge cost to the companies and thus to the final consumers.

The main objective of this project is to develop a novel energy efficient and green process with a lower carbon foot print using a hybrid manufacturing technique with MW and UTS sources of energy, for rapid, scalable and continuous production of valuable synthetic zeolites (e.g. NaA, 13X, NaP) from the CFA as an abundant source of Si and Al.
The zeolitized products will be subjected to the following post synthesis modification:
-Shaping the products in the form of pellets or granules that can be used as adsorbents for gas separation and purification purposes.
-Surface modification of the synthesized zeolites by eco-friendly surfactants in order to develop multifunctional SMZ that can be used for environmental decontamination processes (e.g. adsorption of cationic species (e.g. heavy metals), toxic oxyanions (e.g. chromate and arsenate) and organic pollutants

Air purification using Zeolites 

From  A Manual  PSA setup

To a Fully Automated PAS setup 
The main goal of this project was to develop an air purification  system that is capable of producing a wide range of  oxygen-enriched air stream. In this regard, several molecular sieves from different zeolite families and wide range of particle sizes, were successfully characterized and tested for their efficiency to separate oxygen and nitrogen from air using a home-made bench scale automated Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) setup under different test conditions including column design, air flow rate and column pressure. The outcomes were very satisfactory, in which all of the project’s objectives were addressed properly. Two of the zeolitic materials that meet the project’s goal in terms of oxygen level the enriched air stream and timing of the adsorption-desorption process were down-selected and optimal column design was achieved

Capturing and Storag​e of CO2 on the zeolitic like framework materials

Capturing and sequestration of CO2 represents the most significant cost at about 75% of the total cost of CO2 remediation processes. The adsorbents that most readily adsorb CO2 such as the zeolites have difficulty for bulk adsorption and are hard to regenerate. Thus conventional processes suffer from low productivity and high operating costs. Gas capturing and storage obstacles can be overcome by using solid porous adsorbents. The use of zeolitic-like framework materials such as MOFs and ZIFs nanomaterials should successfully replace traditional, pollution-prone and energy-consuming separation processes.

In this concern, we are trying improve gravimetric and volumetric density of gas uptake (i.e. H2 and CO2) by improving the binding energy for increasing the Zeolitic like framework materials’ gas storage at lower pressures. In this regard, for implementation of “soft chemisorption”; design and preparation of new materials with metal binding sites will be taken into account.

Experimentally, preliminary dynamic capturing of CO2 will be considered by means of thermo-gravimetrical analysis (TGA). In this phase, the effect of temperature, pressure, particle size and surface area, post-synthesis modification and activation, and interfering molecules will be investigated.