Nanoporous, ultralight aerogels from egg proteins.

Nanoporous, ultralight aerogels from egg proteins.

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A recent study by researchers from the Institute of Chemistry of Organometallic Compounds (CNR-ICCOM) and Institute of Nanosciences (CNR-NANO), in collaboration with colleagues from Princeton University, Aramco Research Center-Houston, Scuola Normale Superiore, University of Trento and Queen Mary University of London, published in the journal Materials Today, demonstrated the possibility of transforming specific proteins (albumins) of the egg into an ultralight nanoporous carbon aerogel, which can be used for the production of efficient materials in the purification of water.

In detail, through pyrolysis at 900 ° C it was possible to produce two-dimensional graphitic carbon sheets continuously bonded to carbon nanofibers. Under the applied conditions, the helical and sheet structures are transformed into the graphenic and fibrous components of the aerogel. The structure of the material obtained has different levels of porosity organized hierarchically, with a high surface area and very low density.

The molecular mechanism of formation and transformation of protein structures in the final architectures was studied through reactive molecular dynamics simulations by Susanna Monti (CNR-ICCOM Pisa) and Valentina Tozzini (CNR-NANO Pisa). In combination with the experiments, the study revealed the phases of the transformation processes at the atomic level and showed how these aerogels are able to effectively trap ions thanks to the presence of defects deriving from their biological origin.

The resulting aerogels are able to “remove over 98% of ionic impurities and 99.99% of nano / microplastic contamination from seawater,” explain the researchers.

Ozden, S .; Monti, S .; Tozzini, V .; Dutta, N. S .; Gili, S .; Caggiano, N .; Link, A. J .; Fist, N. M .; Higgins, J .; Priestley, R. D .; Arnold, C. B. “Egg protein derived ultralightweight hybrid monolithic aerogel for water purification”. Materials Today 2022, 59, 46-55.

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