Onur Apul


As the only surviving species of the genus Homo, we named ourselves Homo sapiens meaning ‘wise man’ in Latin. This overconfident self-nomination brings us the responsibility of wisdom. However, persistent increase in population and irresponsible consumption of the natural resources accelerate contaminant influx into the natural environment creating multitude of environmental problems. Therefore, treatment and preservation of natural resources became critical for maintaining sustainable global development. In this regards, as an environmental engineering researcher, I focus on exploring the application and implications of novel technologies for treatment and conservation of environmental resources such as fresh water and soil. The central theme of my research program is experimental investigation of nanotechnology for environmental engineering applications. I specifically focus on the application of nanotechnology in physicochemical water & soil treatment technologies and I am investigating the implications of nanomaterials in the environment as a complementary compartment.

The interactive scheme below has synopses of my research thrusts as well as my current citation records and h-indices based on several online databases.

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Remediation of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Containing Soils

Petroleum hydrocarbons can be released to nature during exploration, production, refining, transportation, or storage of petroleum products causing a globally recognized environmental liability. Depending on the concentration and chemical constituency of the hydrocarbons petroleum contamination can be a long-term environmental liability. In our lab, several promising novel remediation technologies were tested to remediate these soils. These technologies include soil washing coupled with bioremediation, in-situ chemical oxidation using pulverized solid oxidant salts, and carbon nanomaterial augmented microwave irradiation. The future of this thrust of research is going to explore carbon nanomaterial enhanced electomagnetic irradiation technologies and enhance the field deployment of these technologies while revealing the hydrocarbon removal mechanisms from soil.

Sludge Minimization for Wastewater Treatment Plants

Wastewater treatment plants target two major constituents: wastewater and sludge. Even though sludge is not there in the beginning of treatment process it comes as a by-product during the treatment. Since sludge is composed of concentrated contaminants, its ultimate disposal is tedious and costly. Pretreatment of waste activated sludge using microwave irradiation to minimize the amount of sludge is an established technology. Mechanistically, microwave pretreatment releases extracellular polymeric substances as well as intracellular soluble organic matter prior to anaerobic digestion and leads to superior performance of anaerobic digestion yielding more biogas and less solid residual. In this area of research, new generation carbon nanomaterials will be used as augments to enhance microwave-enabled thermal heating because of their favorable dielectric properties. This pretreatment enhancement method would be an effective, rapid and scalable technology.

Environmental Implications of Carbon Nanomaterials

In almost every industry, pace of technology development and commercialization is overwhelmingly fast owing to the tools of communication era. This gives technology development companies the opportunity to disperse their technologies causing serious environmental and health concerns because the implications of these technologies are mostly unknown. Similarly, development of novel carbonaceous materials (e.g., decorated with functional metal oxide nanoparticles) and their production is increasing rapidly. Researchers are required to be proactive about the implications of these novel nanomaterials to assist legislators and inform the general public who is already raising an eyebrow on "nano".In this area of research, I am going to be investigating intermolecular interactions between synthetic organic compounds and carbonaceous nanomaterials under environmentally relevant conditions (i.e., relevant concentrations in relevant background matrices containing natural organic matter) to better understand the fate of nanomaterials once they are introduced to environmental systems.

Technology Development for Physicochemical Water Treatment Processes

Providing access to clean water and maintaining the growing needs for quality and quantity is one of the 14 grand challenges introduced to the professional society by national academy of engineering. Therefore, developing innovative technologies in water treatment is essential to meet this challenge. In our lab new generation carbonaceous materials i.e., carbon nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes, graphene nanosheets) and superfine powdered activated carbons are characterized and their exceptional sorptive properties are being investigated. The future of this thrust is incorporating these superior nanomaterials in electrospun polymeric matrices since electrospinning is a scalable, cost effective and established technology enabling the incorporation of nanomaterials to physicochemical water treatment processes.

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