Electrochemical Technologies toward Sustainability and Circular Economy
Gerardine G. Botte, Ph.D.
Director, CASFER (NSF Engineering Research Center)
Professor and Whitacre Department Chair
Chemical Engineering Department
Whitacre College of Engineering
Texas Tech University
Gerardine (Gerri) Botte is a Professor, the Whitacre Department Chair in Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech University (TTU) and the Founding Director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertilizer Production, CASFER. She has over 24 years of experience in the development of electrochemical processes as they related to the intersection of energy, water, and food sustainability. She is a visionary and a recognized leader in electrochemical science and technology. She has served in leadership roles for both the International Society of Electrochemistry and the Electrochemical Society and is currently the Senior Vice President of the Electrochemical Society. She is also the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Applied Electrochemistry. In 2014, she was named a Fellow of the Electrochemical Society for her contributions and innovation in electrochemical processes and engineering. She became a Chapter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2012. In 2010, she was named a Fellow of the World Technology Network for her contributions on the development of sustainable and environmental technologies. Previous to Texas Tech, Dr. Botte was named University Distinguished Professor (lifetime award and Russ Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Ohio University, the founder and Director of Ohio University’s Center for Electrochemical Engineering Research (CEER), and the founder and Director of the Consortium for Electrochemical Processes and Technology (CEProTECH) -an Industry University Cooperative Research Center. Dr. Botte has 207 publications including peer-reviewed journals, book chapters, and 61 granted patents. Dr. Botte and members of her research group are working on the foundation of applying electrochemical engineering principles for advanced and sustainable manufacturing, process intensification, food/energy/water sustainability, and nanomaterials with expertise in electro-synthesis, batteries, electrolyzers, sensors, fuel cells, mathematical modeling, and electro-catalysis. Example projects include: electrochemical extraction of/and recovery of rare earth elements from solid fuels and produced water, hydrogen production from ammonia, biomass, urea, coal, and pet-coke, synthesis of carbon nanotubes and graphene, water remediation and disinfection, selective catalytic reduction, ammonia synthesis, electrochemical conversion of CO2 to high value products, novel electrolytes for thermal batteries, advanced electrowinning, and electrochemical microbial sensors. Dr. Botte is also an entrepreneur, she has been involved in the commercialization of technologies, has founded and co-founded companies, and serves as board of director in several companies. She received her Ph.D. in 2000 (under the direction of Dr. Ralph E. White) and M.E. in 1998, both in Chemical Engineering, from the University of South Carolina. Prior to graduate school, Dr. Botte worked as a process engineer in a petrochemical plant; she was involved in the production of fertilizers and polymers. Dr. Botte received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Universidad de Carabobo (Venezuela) in 1994. She can be reached at Gerri.Botte@ttu.edu.
Circularity and sustainability are typically used together and sometimes interchangeably leading to confusion and diluting the importance and value of the actions related to each other . Electrochemical technologies are an excellent platform to contribute towards both sustainability and circularity. In this talk, I will present examples of electrochemical technologies that we are developing at the Chemical and Electrochemical Technology Innovation Laboratory at Texas Tech University towards water sustainability (e.g., ammonia and nitrate removal , electrochemical sensors ), and circular economy including electrochemical valorization of sewage sludge , and electrochemical depolymerization of plastics .
Ammonia and nitrate emissions in water are associated with environmental problems such as algae bloom, disturbing the nitrogen cycle. In the presentation, I will discuss the implementation of ammonia electrolysis to remove both ammonia and nitrates from water and its contribution toward water sustainability. On the other hand, waste activated sludge (WAS) is the major byproduct of municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Management and disposal of WAS create challenges for WWTPs such as high energy consumption and operational costs. In this presentation, I will discuss the electrolysis of waste activated sludge (E-WAS) which enables biosolid solubilization and production of chemicals of value at low cell voltage and temperature under mild alkaline conditions. E-WAS would enable process intensification in municipal wastewater treatment plans and could transform sludge management operation from a cost model to a revenue generation model, leading towards circular economies.
Finally, within the topic of circularity, I will discuss a novel approach that leads to the electrochemical depolymerization of plastics.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Economy Systems Diagram (2019), https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org.
 Luis Diaz and Gerardine G. Botte, “Electrochemical Deammonification of Swine Wastewater,” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, 51, 12167-12172 (2012).
 Ashwin Ramanujam, Bertrand Neyhouse, Rebecca A. Keogh, Madhivanan Muthuvel, Ronan K. Carroll, Gerardine G. Botte, “Rapid electrochemical detection of Escherichia coli using nickel oxidation on a rotating disk electrode”, Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, 411, 128453 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cej.2021.128453 (2021).
 Maasoomeh Jafari, Gerardine G. Botte, “Electrochemical Valorization of Waste Activated Sludge for Short-chain Fatty Acids Production”, Frontiers in Chemistry, 10 https://doi.org/10.3389/fchem.2022.974223 (2022).
 Gerardine G. Botte, “Processes for electrochemical up-cycling of plastics and systems thereof”, pending US patent 63040929P (2020).