The overall goal of this RUI (Research in Undergraduate Institutes) CAS (Critical Aspects of Sustainability) Collaborative program is to create and evaluate new conductive materials by functionalizing cellulose with ionic groups. Cellulose represents an inexpensive, sustainable feedstock with a number of desirable properties, including good mechanical strength and high permeability. However, cellulose has been underutilized in the development of advanced materials for applications such as energy storage and carbon dioxide capture, both of which are extremely important in today’s world. In this work, ion-containing, cellulose-based materials will be synthesized and characterized in order to understand fundamental relationships between material structure and properties. Cellulose will be used extensively as a foundational material for the formation of conductive polymers and the results will help advance knowledge in energy storage and transport. The work proposed here will be completed collaboratively by a team of primarily undergraduate students from Murray State University (MSU) and Rutgers University-Camden (RUC) in the hopes of not only providing a rich and rewarding educational experience for the students involved, but also to continue a sustainable collaboration between the two groups. Through this RUI proposal, the Integration of Rural and Urban educational Experience (IRUE) will be created, offering students from each university the opportunity to spend part of a summer at the other respective institution to learn polymer synthesis, morphology, and materials characterization, thus advancing the breadth of their scientific education. As MSU is located in rural Kentucky and RUC is located in urban New Jersey, these students will also experience vastly different sociological environments, further enhancing their appreciation for collaborative scientific research. Student participants will receive a rewarding, cutting-edge research experience that will prepare them for STEM-related majors, careers and/or pre-professional school.

Technical Abstract

The central hypothesis of this proposal is that, through functionalization of cellulose with an ionic liquid (IL) or poly(ionic liquid) (PIL) group, a new class of conductive materials will be developed and that their end-use properties (mechanical, conductive, morphological) can be manipulated through careful choice of IL/PIL structure. Although the segmental dynamics of cellulose itself are relatively slow, leading to high stiffness and poor conductivity, functionalization with an IL or PIL group will lead to enhanced flexibility and ionic conduction due to changes in morphology. The PIs propose three objectives as part of this proposal: (1) synthesis and characterization of IL-functionalized cellulosic materials, (2) synthesis and characterization of PIL-grafted cellulosic materials, and (3) evaluation of select materials in CO2 capture/absorption. Ionic conductivity, backbone-to-backbone spacing, polysaccharide crystallinity, ion aggregation, and microphase separation will be evaluated using a combination of techniques, including electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, X-ray scattering, chemical mapping, electron microscopy, and calorimetry experiments. MSU will serve as the lead institution of the proposal and will oversee all of the synthetic thrusts as well as the overall management of financial/technical reporting. RUC will be responsible for characterization (conductivity, morphology) of the materials, including the affect of humidity on these properties, and then integrate with MSU in the synthetic efforts during years two and three as promising leads are developed. Carbon dioxide separation/capture measurements will be made at both institutions and completed as time permits in year three. As mentioned above, a significant number of undergraduate STEM students will be supported by this award, acquiring skills that encompass monomer/polymer synthesis and characterization (FTIR, TGA, DSC, X-ray scattering, DRS, SEM, etc.). Students in the proposed IRUE program will gain a unique sociological perspective as well as a broadening of their scientific skills. Synthetic approaches, materials analyses and applications were carefully selected so as to provide student participants with a rewarding research experience while generating high quality data which will be disseminated in nationally and internationally recognized, peer-reviewed journals and presented at professional meetings. The PIs firmly believe that their results will greatly enhance the area of sustainable, conductive materials with long-range implications in energy transport/storage and CO2 capture. .

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
Application #
Program Officer
Andrew Lovinger
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Rutgers University Camden
United States
Zip Code