A Paradigm Shift in Chemistry: Nanostructured Materials Without Waste

© Lars Borchhardt Group

“It is not waste until it is wasted.” That’s Lars Borchardt’s motto. Together with his team of the Lars Borchardt Research Group at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Borchardt is trying to make chemistry more sustainable. Two of their major projects include conducting chemical reactions without solvent waste and using renewable resources and waste material to create energy storage.

Solvent-free Pathways to Nanostructured Materials

A major challenge of today is reducing the waste generated by the chemical industry. Solvents, or the substances that break down or dissolve other substances, accumulate in almost all chemical processes. Compared to the desired product this waste accumulates in 5- to 100-fold quantities.

The Borchardt Group is developing radical new synthesis pathways completely avoiding the use of solvents. These syntheses are based on mechanochemistry, which uses mechanical energy to initiate chemical reactions. In Borchardt’s case, ball milling initiates chemical reactions rather than temperature as in conventional thermally-induced reactions. The energy input is restricted to a locally confined spot within the reaction chamber where chemical bonds are broken and reformed. Because the approach uses unconventional chemistry, it opens up the possibility of different reactions and products as compared to classical solvent-based synthesis.

Waste to Energy

Besides their work reducing solvent waste, the Borchardt Group is also researching the use of waste materials to create porous carbon that can be used as electrochemical energy storage systems such as lithium-sulfur batteries and electrochemical double layer capacitors.

Lars Borchardt was named an MIT “Top European Talents Under 35” in 2017.