Hydrogels are typically defined as hydrophilic, colloidal gels consisting of cross-linked polymer chains that are capable of absorbing and retaining large amounts of water, ions, and small molecules. Hydrogels can maintain their structural integrity with aggressive temperature changes. Previously, hydrogels have been used to absorb contaminants and/or nutrients such as oil, urea, nitrogen and phosphorus. Hydrogels can be made out of both natural and synthetic materials, and the properties of hydrogels can be customized by modifying the polymer chains’ composition and crosslinking methods. The goal of this research is to immobilize hydrogels on meshes in order to enhance their durability and applicability. It is hypothesized that the integration of mesh into hydrogels will ensure the stability for continuous operation while providing the favored traits: increased durability and superior absorption and swelling capacities. For this study, three analogous polyacrylamide gels are immobilized atop meshes, while three other polyacrylamide hydrogels (the control group) were formed without immobilization. To determine the swelling abilities for the hydrogels, a specific amount of hydrogel samples was placed in water, and the increase in total mass was measured as a function of equilibration time. The adsorption behavior was investigated as well for the immobilized or non-mobilized hydrogels. The durability was tested by repeating the experiment with increased number of batches. The resulting performance and observations for the immobilized polyacrylamide hydrogels were systematically compared against the control group. The integration did not perform better than the control group, but the stability for repeated operation was promising with further optimization of immobilization including the materials and size of employed mesh. Future study will extend to developing continuous nutrient recycle operation. This includes investigation of the relationship between the amount and composition of polymers and their performance and synthesizing gels in 3-D structures.


The research was funded by the School of Science and Technology's STEC 4500 Research Fund.

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