Our group has 34 integrated (senior) members, distributed among 8 research laboratories, whose main scientific background is in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. From 2018 onwards the group will benefit from the integration of new members from the University of Évora with a strong track record in thermophysics and molecular modelling.
Our research covers a wide spectrum of disciplines, such as biocatalysis, separation/purification, solvents and reaction media, synthesis/processing, systems biology and metabolic modelling, and thermophysics.
The development of environmentally friendly processes to produce highly added-value products in a sustainable and economical way is a unifying research theme.
A sizable volume of intellectual property involving different labs has been produced, as reflected by 4 recent patent submissions, 8 industrial contracts, including 4 in EU projects, 32 externally funded projects, with 11 directly from EU, and 4 new start-ups. A process engineering pilot plant, with 120 sq.m, includes (bio)reactors, membrane units, extraction and separation equipment and a supercritical fluid unit.
Membrane processes: development and monitoring
- Recovery of high-value compounds from complex (bio)medium (agro-industrial effluents and microalgae biomass)
- Treatment of (agro)industrial and domestic effluents for water reuse
(implementation of this work allowed GALP to save 500 k€/year in wastewater costs and target additional savings of 1.5 M€/year)
- Integration of membranes and advanced oxidation processes
- Removal of hazardous ionic pollutants from drinking water supplies
- Membrane contactors for crystallization and nano-emulsification
- “Blue” energy for a sustainable world
- Modelling of membrane processes using computational fluid dynamics
- Real-time process monitoring using 2D fluorescence spectroscopy
- Molecular probes for in-situ and on-line membrane monitoring
- On-line, real-time monitoring of gas and vapour permeation by
Development of new membrane materials
- Membranes integrating ionic liquids and MOFs for gas separation
- Membranes based in biopolymers for biomedical applications, food packaging and dehydration processes
- Stimuli-responsive membranes for biotechnological, biomedical and environmental applications
- Photocatalytic membranes
Sustainable biorefinery for biogas upgrading
- Novel Adsorption-based technological pathways towards a low-carbon economy, GHG Mitigation and Renewable energy resources
- Biorefinery for the production of activated carbon from maize wastes and Biogas upgrading
- Screening of new adsorbent media for biogas upgrading as a source of renewable energy
Adsorption science and technology
- Experimental and computational studies of gas adsorption in metal-organic frameworks
- Optimization of the industrial-scale simulated moving-bed Parex unit for p– xylene separation.
- Rational development of flow-through purification strategies for viruses and virus-like particles
- Nanoscopic characterization of DNA confined within hydrophobic and hydrophilic carbon nanotubes
- Improved virus purification processes for vaccines and gene therapy
Fluorinated ionic liquids
- Influence of nanosegregation on the behavior of ionic liquids
- Drug delivery systems of biomolecules using ionic liquids
- Enhanced tunability afforded by aqueous biphasic systems and ionic liquids
- Increasing the surfactant behavior and solubilization capacity of ionic liquids
Functionalized ionic liquids
- Protonic ammonium nitrate ionic liquids
- Charge-inverted ionic liquid pairs
- Ionic liquids for the crystallization of proteins
- Magnetic ionic liquids and their applications on the development of high performance materials
- Playing with ionic liquids structure to discover unusual properties and applications
Nature-inspired ionic liquids
- Carboxilate-based ILs to enhance the dissolution, properties and applications of nucleic acid bases
- Cholinium-based ILs for extraction of pharmaceutical compounds using benign Aqueous Biphasic Systems
- Amino acid-based ILs to improve enzymatic activity
- Pharmaceutically active ionic liquids (API-ILs) to upgrade the chemical, physical, and biopharmaceutical properties of the parent APIs
- Valuable new platform chemicals obtained by valorization of succinic and bio-succinic acid with an ionic liquid and high-pressure CO2
- New organic carbonates from CO2 and bio-based epoxides
- High pressure electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide and water, in an ionic liquid electrolyte, to produce syngas with controlled proportions of CO and Hydrogen
- Hydrogenation of CO2 into methane, catalyzed by ruthenium nanoparticles, stabilized by ionic liquid solvents
- Novel systems, based on highly abundant saccharides, in combination with an organic superbase, were studied for carbon dioxide capture
- Probing phase transformations and molecular mobility of materials in bulk and upon nanoconfinement: pharmaceutical drugs, polymers
- Improvement of drug delivery performance by stabilization of high energetic drug states
- Characterization of conductive properties of ionic liquid based materials
Systems biology and engineering
- Novel hybrid modelling methods combining traditional mathematical modelling with machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to support efficient industry 4.0 digitalization
- Modelling, Measurement, Monitoring & Control (M3C) of bioprocesses: supporting Process Analytical Technology (PAT) using hybrid systems theory
- Cell functional enviromics: reconstruction of cellular function from the side of the environment whereby
time series of cellular footprints are used to identify and reconstruct active biologic functions
- Novel systems biology methods for designing synthetic biologic parts, such as core promoter DNA sequences, for fine-tuningheterologous protein expression
- Value creation and entrepreneurship in the field of systems biologythrough education, industrial collaboration and science based startups
Microbial ecology and technology
- Combining thermochemical and biological processes for agroindustrial/forestry residues valorization
- Conversion of biodiesel by-product (crude glycerol) to biodegradable polymers
- Microbial Ecology of mixed microbial cultures processes
- Two/three-step process for polyhydroxyalkanoates production using hardwood spent sulfite liquor from pulp and paper industry
- Molecular biology methods in Microbial Ecology of mixed microbial cultures processes
Valorization of agro-industrial and fish by-product
- Subcritical water (SBW) and supercritical CO2 (sc-CO2 ) have been used in the recovery of added-value compounds from agroindustrial matrices and fish waste
- Deep eutectic solvents (DES) have been used to decrease cellulose crystallinity
- Recovered lipids and carbohydrates have been used as alternative sources to grow yeast and bacteria
- Integrated extraction/(bio)transformation/separation processes have been implemented for lipids from agro-industrial by-products. Phase equilibrium data have been generated and modelled
- Some processes have been carried out at pilot scale under contract with National or European industrial companies, and their economic viability assessed
New formulations for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, CO2 capture and conversion
- Sc-CO2 has been used to prepare/alter functional materials, often materials that incorporate a task specific ionic liquid or DES, through swelling, impregnation/extraction, and foaming
- Data on the properties of DES and DES/sc-CO2 systems have been generated
- Added-value compounds from agro-industrial by-products, as well as therapeutic DES and enzymes, have been encapsulated in films, particles, sol-gel matrices, electrospun fibres, or incorporated in formulations for cosmetics, controlled release, and CO2 capture and conversion
- Design of Functional Membranes
Functional membranes are task specific molecular barriers designed to fulfil specific process requisites or promote well-defined processing operations allowing for a non-invasive control, monitoring and improvement of the performance of processes from different application fields – biotechnology, health, food, environment and energy. Functional porous materials and biodegradable dense thin films, with tailor made chemistries, hierarchical 3D porous structures and topographies were designed and used in the development of (bio)sensors, edible food packaging and cutting edge (bio)separation processes. Stimuli-responsive membrane based devices for tissue engineering applications, membranes with magnetically modulated permeability and microfluidic systems for high throughput protein crystallization and derivatization processes were developed. For the first time, it was possible to produce isomorphous protein crystals without laborious handling, using membranes to control diffusion for insitu crystal’s derivatization.
- Technology for the removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) present in anaesthetic gas circuits
Anaesthetic closed circuits are used to promote the reuse of the exhaled anaesthetic gas that circulates through a canister containing soda lime which reacts with CO2. Despite of being used in hospital operating rooms, soda lime is a caustic compound which produces toxic products when in contact with the anaesthetic gas mixture. This work proposes a clean, efficient and self-renewable technology to remove CO2 from anaesthesia circuits. It consists of using hollow fibre membrane contactors with a biocompatible ionic liquid and an enzyme (carbonic anhydrase) as the liquid absorber. This procedure allows for capturing CO2 and regenerating the ionic liquid in a continuous operation mode.
Due to the novelty of this work, a National Patent (Nº106902), a PCT PCT/IB2014/060797 and a World Patent (WO2014/170858A1) were submitted. The L’Oréal Portugal Medal of Honour for Women in Science 2013 was awarded with visibility in press and national TV. It also gave rise to the creation of the spin-off company InovBreath, Lda (February 2016), and the first prize award in the entrepreneurship business idea contest of CINC Cascais (June 2016).
- Statistical Mechanics & Molecular Simulation
We have employed theoretical tools developed within the framework of statistical mechanics (Molecular Dynamics, Monte Carlo, Hamiltonian-biasing algorithms) to solve contemporary issues in biophysics and materials science. In particular, we have theoretically studied DNA nanotechnology using carbon nanotubes for it is currently leading the way in personalized (less risk intense) therapeutics for specific drug delivery to living human cells. Enhanced sampling techniques spanning a sub-microsecond time scale revealed that a double-stranded DNA dodecamer can be spontaneously encapsulated into (51,0) and (40,0) single-walled carbon nanotubes under the influence of an electric field, leading to hybrids with a 40 kJ/mol enhanced free energy. Moreover, our molecular study has been shown the nanotube-encapsulated nucleic acid maintains translational mobility within the endohedral nanotube volume, but the diffusional mechanism is markedly dependent on pore diameter.
- Adsorption Science and Process Systems Engineering
We have evaluated state-of-the-art adsorbents, namely metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), carbon nanotubes, zeolites and activated carbons for application in adsorption-based separations and gas storage (e.g. methane, CO2 , and hydrogen). Experimental adsorption equilibria and kinetics studies have been combined with molecular modelling and classical simulation for a general interpretation of the thermodynamic phenomena.
We have designed novel adsorption-based processes, for gas and liquid separations, through model-based process simulation & optimization and experimental validation. The main separation/process targets have been Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) for biogas upgrading and carbon dioxide (CO2 ) capture, novel Simulated Moving Bed (SMB) schemes for ethane/ethylene and CO2 /CH4 separation, and the purification of fine chemicals and biopharmaceuticals by compact SMB chromatography.
- Fluorinated Ionic Liquids as novel task-specific materials
Fluorinated ionic liquids (FILs) are growing into greener materials for engineering applications. For the first time, the presence of a unique nanostructuring effect was proven – the appearance of a third nanosegregated domain (fluorous), which permits converting FILs into 3-in-1 solvents with enhanced solubilization power. The different types of interactions and the size and nature of the domains promote an enriched surfactant behavior and solubility in water. This fact permit us to use FILs in different bioapplications where conventional fluorocarbon compounds display some handicaps.
- Charge-inverted ionic liquid pairs
It is well-known that salts based on the halides anions show much lower melting temperatures than those in which their isoelectronic alkali counterparts are present as cations. Salts based on potassium are not members of the ionic liquids family, whereas many containing chloride are. There are more than 400 halide-based ILs (e.g. Cl- ) but none based on its isoelectronic counterpart, K+ . For the first time, ionic liquid pairs in which their constitutive ions can be regarded, in terms of charge, as the mirror images of each other, were synthesized and characterized. The proofof- concept that inverted-IL salts can also be fluid at relatively low temperatures opens new possibilities for the preparation of novel, paradigm-shifting IL families.
- CO2 hydrogenation to methane using ruthenium nanoparticles in ionic liquids
Power-to-gas schemes use hydrogen from water electrolysis to reduce captured carbon dioxide into fuels. An efficient, high yield route to obtain methane directly form CO2 was discovered, using as catalyst ruthenium nanoparticles prepared in situ in imidazolium-based ionic liquid media, at relatively low temperature (150 ºC). Yields in different ionic liquids were highly dependent on the nanoparticle stabilizing effect of each liquid.
- Functional enviromics mapping of CHO cells
We have developed of functional enviromics maps for Pichia pastoris cells expressing heterologous proteins. Such mapping provides unprecedented detail of cellular interaction with their environment. Metabolic pathway tailored culture medium optimization to enhance the expression of heterologous proteins by Pichia pastoris cells and Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. We have also developed of a software tool for hybrid semiparametric mathematical modelling for systems bio(techno)logy problems. Implementation of Process Analytical technologies (PAT) and Quality by Design (QbD) for mammalian cell cultures and show case with CHO expressing monoclonal antibodies using hybrid systems theory.
- Utilization of pyrolytic oil from chicken beds for PHA aerobic production by mixed microbial cultures
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are biodegradable polymers with similar properties to fuel-derived ones. PHA production from low-value substrates and/or by-products is an economical and environmental promising alternative to established industrial processes. Chicken beds are a hazard waste namely due to its high N content. From the thermochemical conversion of the solid waste the obtained liquid fractions (bio-oil) was used as substrate to select a mixed microbial culture able to produce PHA under feast/famine conditions.
A PHA content of 9.2% was achieved in an SBR operated for culture selection, later maximized in a side-stream step. Other studies that use real complex substrates for culture selection show that bio-oil can be a promising feedstock to produce PHAs. To maximize carbon conversion a three-step process is preferable to the present two-step one. The introduction of an acidogenesis step would convert available carbon sources into short-chain organic acids that would be more easily converted to PHAs.
- Green generation sunscreens based on coffee industrial by-products
Spent coffee grounds and green coffee defective beans, which are industrial by-products of coffee processing, have a potential use for cosmetic applications, due to their safety and high content in lipids with interesting physicochemical properties. The biological effects of using the oil fraction of spent coffee grounds extracted with supercritical CO2, and of green coffee oil in the development of a new generation of sunscreens with improved sun protection performance, were assessed. The two oil fractions were used to prepare w/o sunscreens. The emulsion containing the spent coffee grounds oil fraction presented promising characteristics in the improvement of water performance, with a broad spectrum sun protection when compared to an emulsion containing green coffee oil, which improved the sun protection factor in physical sunscreens.
- Fast-dissolving drug delivery systems with encapsulated therapeutic eutectic systems
Oral drug delivery is still the preferred route for the administration of pharmaceutical ingredients, but some patients, e.g. children or elderly people, have difficulties in swallowing solid tablets. Fastdissolving delivery systems (FDDS) allow quick drug administration, while avoiding physical obstruction as well as the need of access to water. High surface area gelatin membranes containing an encapsulated therapeutic deep eutectic solvent (THEDES) were produced by electrospinning. The fibre membranes had no cytotoxicity effects, exhibited a fast-dissolving release profile in PBS, and the encapsulated THEDES retained its antibacterial activity, thus opening up new opportunities for the design of more affordable and biodegradable drug delivery mechanisms.