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Eden awarded nearly $1 million grant to continue microplasma research


Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS

With rising concerns on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Professor J. Gary Eden and his colleagues are researching how to convert the environmentally harmful molecule into substances industrial companies use in production every day.

J. Gary Eden
J. Gary Eden
J. Gary Eden
Eden was awarded a $917,744 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to fund his purchase of laser and gas analytical equipment. He plans to use this equipment to continue his research of microplasma devices.

The research will focus on probing the microplasmas to gain a better understanding of how they work. Eden believes the research could produce a process of separating carbon dioxide molecules and changing them into commercially beneficial materials.

“Our intention is to convert something that is an environmental negative (carbon dioxide) into an industrial positive,” Eden said. “We have some preliminary data that shows that if carbon dioxide is fed into our microplasma arrays that it tears apart carbon dioxide with an efficiency that is much greater than any technique that we are aware of.”

The solution Eden has suggested would provide an alternative for the current carbon dioxide disposal method, which involves injecting liquefied carbon dioxide into the ground at one of only nine approved U.S. locations.

Eden envisions that companies that produce high levels of carbon dioxide would be able to have a microplasma conversion generator onsite. The carbon dioxide would then be broken down into it atoms, and then reformed into an industrially useful product like formic acid, which is used in the production of pharmaceuticals and plastics.

“The industry currently has to make formic acid from raw materials,” Eden said. “So if we can take it from CO2, which is being generated anyway, and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere and instead convert it into an industrial feedstock, that’s an enormous advantage for everyone.”

Eden and his partner Sung-Jin Park, an adjunct ECE professor, have spent the last 15 years researching the microplasmas. Through their research, the two discovered that when microplasmas are confined to a microcavity or vacuum like environment, they can be effective chemical generator.

This is of particular interest to the Department of Defense because it creates an easier way for oxygen to be converted into ozone, which can then be used to disinfect water.

“We have demonstrated that these little microplasmas will produce ozone more efficiently than conventional methods,” Eden said. “This method is useful for disinfecting water in the remote areas in which the Department of Defense operates. It turns out that if you bubble ozone through (water), it is much more powerful as an oxidizer and a disinfectant than chlorine, for example.”

From the research they have done at the Laboratory for Optical Physics and Engineering, Eden and Park founded a company called Eden Park Illumination, which focuses its work on dynamic lighting devices and microplasma technology.

The AFOSR has helped fund Eden’s research for the entirety of his 35 years at the University. His colleagues at the ASFOR recommended he pursue this current grant because of the wide range of applications it has for both the Department of Defense and U.S. citizens.

“They are devoted to supporting basic research,” Eden said. “The federal government encourages research that could have a commercial application and results in businesses and products because both the Department of Defense and the American taxpayer benefit.”

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illinois [dot] edu or (217) 244-6376.