Group leader

Prof.dr. Francesco Picchioni
(; +31 50 363 4333)
Francesco Picchioni obtained his PhD (2000) in Polymer Chemistry at the University of Pisa (Italy) on a project dealing with thermoplastic rubbers. After 3 years postdoc at the Technical University of Eindhoven (on a project about “solid state modification of polypropylene”), he joined in 2003 the university of Groningen first as assistant professor and then associate (2007). Since 2013 he is full professor in Chemical Product Engineering. He is (co)author of about 90 papers in peer-reviewed journals and 4 patents.

Scientific staff

Dr. Paolo Pescarmona
(; +31 50 363 6521)
Paolo was born in Italy and studied at the University of his hometown (Torino), where he obtained his Master Degree in Chemistry in 1997. In 1999 he moved to the Netherlands, where he obtained his PhD from Delft University of Technology in 2003. Then, he worked for various years at the KU Leuven, in Belgium, first as post-doc and then as assistant professor. In 2014 he moved to his current position at the University of Groningen. Martin van Duin
(; +31 50 363 4267)

Prof.dr. Paul de Wild
(; +31 50 363 4267) Geert Versteeg
(; +31 50 363 8366)

Dr. Patrizio Raffa
Patrizio Raffa obtained his PhD in Chemistry in 2009 from the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa (Italy), working on synthesis and applications of metal nanoparticles. He pursued post-doctoral research in polymeric materials in Pisa until 2011, and then at the University of Groningen until 2016. As of January 2017 he is an assistant professor at the University of Groningen, in the group of Prof. Francesco Picchioni.

Secretarial office

Ms. Marya de Jonge
(; +31 50 363 4484)

Technical support

Mr Marcel de Vries
(; +31 50 363 4470)


Bhawan Singh

( )

Supervisor: P. P.Pescarmona

Project: Synthesis and catalytic application of nanostructured oxides
Nanosized materials with well-defined structure are attractive in catalysis due to the specific physicochemical properties connected to their nanoscale (e.g. high number of active sites, high surface area and an open, accessible structure). In this project, we study metal oxide nanostructures as heterogeneous catalysts for sustainable oxidation reactions using the environmentally friendly H2O2 as oxidant. The focus is on the selective, partial oxidation of different functional groups and on the conversion of natural and bio-based substrates to valuable products. The project is carried out in collaboration with the UFABC in Brazil.

PhD students

Yehan Tao

( )

Supervisor: P. P. Pescarmona - F. Picchioni

Project: Synthesis of enhanced catalytic materials in supercritical CO2
This project is focused on the synthesis of nanostructured, highly dispersed metal oxide catalytic materials using supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) as green reaction medium.
The use of scCO2 as solvent can promote the production of various types of materials with favourable properties such as higher surface area, tuneable and uniform size distribution, controlled shapes, defined structure and less agglomeration of adjacent particles.
The prepared metal oxides will be studied as heterogeneous catalysts in selected applications in the field of green chemistry.

Zahra Asgar Pour

( )

Supervisor: P. P. Pescarmona - F. Picchioni

Project: Structuring solid acids into heterogeneous catalyst particles
Zeolites are crystalline aluminosilicate minerals with a wide range of applications as catalysts, adsorbents, molecular sieves and membranes in several different industries. This project focuses on creating new and novel Brønsted solid acid structures by tailored structuring of different types of zeolites in material with hierarchical porosity. These new structures will be fully characterised and applied as heterogeneous catalysts in relevant gas/liquid reactions.

Yasser Alassmy

( )

Supervisor: P. P. Pescarmona - F. Picchioni

Project: Development of catalysts for the synthesis of polymeric and cyclic carbonates from CO2
In this project we focus on the use of CO2 as feedstock for the synthesis of valuable products such as cyclic and polymeric carbonates. Different classes of catalysts, with particular attention to metal-free systems, are studied in order to enhance the selectivity and the yield towards the chosen form of carbonate. The development of new organic carbonate products is a further aim of this research project.

Zhenchen Tang

(; +31 50 363 4462 )

Supervisor: H. J. Heeres - P. P. Pescarmona

Project: Catalytic conversion of glycerol to fine chemicals
Glycerol is the main by-product (10 wt%) of bio-diesel, which is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. It is interesting to convert glycerol or its derivatives, such as acetol, to valuable chemicals.
In order to convert these compounds with high yield and selectivity to the selected products, we design and develop multifunctional heterogeneous catalysts by tuning the nature of the active species and by maximising their accessibility.

Esteban Araya

(; +31 50 363 4826. )

Supervisor: Prof.dr. Francesco Picchioni

Project: Polysoaps based on the chemical modification of polyketones
Polysoaps are a type of polymeric surfactant with hydrophobic and hydrophilic moieties scattered all over the polymer back bone. Due to their amphiphilic properties, they have been used in pharmacology, oil recovery, micellar catalysis, etc. Polymeric surfactant can be synthesized by different methods. One of them is the chemical modification of preformed polymers. Alternating polyketones can act as precursors for preparation of polysoaps by chemical modification via the Paal-Knorr reaction. This reaction is solvent and catalysts free, carried out in one-pot, and yields water as only by-product. In this project we have modified polyketone with low-molecular-weight molecules, which have different functional groups (aliphatic amines and charge aromatic groups), tuning its hydrophobic/hydrophilic balance. These polymers have been used in the encapsulation of hydrophobic antibiotics, dispersion/aggregation of porphyrine, and the formation of nanoparticles based on in situ redox reaction of a water soluble molecule.

P.A. (Patrick) Figaroa

( )

Supervisor: Prof.dr. F. Picchioni

Project: Chemical structure-ion relationship with calcium and sodium. Synthesis of selective chelators.
In this project we will proof chemical structure selectivity towards calcium by modifications of glycylglycine with ethylenediamine (see scheme 1), polyketone (PK30) with 2-(1H-Imidazol-1-yl)ethanamine (see scheme 3) and PK30 with spermine (see scheme 2).

The concept is based on preliminary experiments which showed structure-selectivity towards calcium by chemical modifications of PK30 with glycylglycine (I). The reference compound (II) showed that by increasing the length of the functional group while removing its aromatic ring, calcium selectivity is obtained. The reason is (most probable) because the ion-interactions in a linear region, is directly correlated with the charge density of the ion while the ion-interactions in long region is directly correlated with the void orbitals of the ion (e.g. electron configuration). In order to proof this statement three different modification steps are studied and tested for their salt uptake at equivalent concentrations to seawater.

Modification step 1: reaction of glycylglycine with ethylenediamine following reaction with PK30 including its model compound reaction

Yifei Fan

(; +31 50 363 4465 )

Supervisor: Prof.dr. F. Picchioni

Project: Well-defined long-chain branched polymeric materials
In the presence project we aim at systematically investigating the relationship between water-soluble branched polymers and their properties, with particular emphasis on their rheological behaviour in semi-dilute solutions. The first step towards this goal is constituted by the synthesis of the branched polymers, which will be studied by taking ATRP as basic polymerization routes. Particular attention will be paid at the choice of the initiator system with a priori preference for water-soluble options. Preliminary options for initiation systems fulfilling these requirements can be represented by polysaccharide (e.g. starch) derivatives. Modification of the basic polysaccharide structure by insertion of halogens for ATRP will be carried out in classical organic solvents. The prepared structures will be then evaluated in terms of their macromolecular architecture through classical characterization techniques (e.g. GPC, NMR) as well as, whenever possible, through their rheological behaviour in the melt. Particular attention will be paid to the synthesis of amphiphilic structures (i.e. polymeric surfactants) by copolymerizing a hydrophilic monomer with a hydrophobic one. In water solution, such macromolecules self-assemble to deliver micelle-like structures. Also in this case the relationship between the chemical structure of the copolymer, the self-assembling behaviour and the end properties (e.g. rheological behaviour) will be the object of the investigation.

Pablo Druetta

(; +31 50 363 4461 )

Supervisor: Francesco Picchioni

Project: Numerical Modeling of Chemically Enhanced Oil Recovery Processes
The exploitation of an oil field is a complex and multidisciplinary task, which demands a lot of prior knowledge, time and money. A good reservoir characterization is deemed essential in the accomplishment of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) processes in order to estimate accurately the properties of the porous medium affecting the flow properties. Several techniques at a field scale are currently being used to determine these properties, which are time and money consuming. But these alone do not guarantee the success of the project. Reservoir simulation and numerical techniques are then included in the pre-development and follow-up studies as an effective tool to determine the productivity and future behavior of the oil field. As the computational power increased, more advanced and detailed models were developed, including different chemical and physical phenomena. But alongside this process, there was an active research in the area of reservoir simulation, improving the accuracy and efficiency of the numerical schemes used for the flow, transport, and energy equations. The aim of this project is to develop new tools for chemical EOR processes so as to provide an additional technique to synthesize new and improved chemicals.

Ionela Gavrila, Msc.

(; +31 50 363 4486 )

Supervisor: Prof.dr. Francesco Picchioni

Project: From Beets to Polymers
Imagine the future of polymeric materials as not dependent anymore on oil resources. Even more, imagine industry producing chemical building blocks which are obtained from biomass, as for instance from the sugar waste streams. This research project aims to prove that this scenarios are feasible and furthermore that working on a structure-properties approach, sugar based monomers can be harnessed into high performance polymers which match targeted characteristics.
The focus is on the synthesis of novel polyesters and polyesteramides which come into solving commercial problems, such as for example, developing a low dielectric constant material which can withstand desert conditions, or making a clear, transparent and high impact protection cover for one of the day-to-day use electronics.
Last but not least, proving the added value of these bio-based materials not only at a lab scale but also one step further, will finally convince industry that the “green” label comes next to a competitive performance.

A.J. (Arjen) Kamphuis

(, +31 50 363 4461 )

Supervisor: Dr. Paolo Pescarmona, Prof.dr. Francesco Picchioni

Project: Catalytic conversion of CO2 to organic carbonates
The reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere has become a hot topic in the past few decades. Although the public focus has mainly been on the reduction of emissions and the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, a potentially more interesting topic is the valorisation of CO2 by employing it as a building block for new chemical products.

The application of carbon dioxide as a building block is a promising approach for the synthesis of new valuable products due to the abundancy, low cost, renewability, low-toxicity and non-flammability of CO2. The use of carbon dioxide for new products optimally results in a reduced demand for petroleum-derived chemicals, offering a highly sustainable process for the production of new chemical products.

A.P. Kristijarti

(; +31 50 363 4486 )

Supervisor: H.J. Heeres and Prof.dr. F. Picchioni

Project: Synthesis and Modification of Functional Polysaccharides
Polysaccharides are major carbohydrate compounds in nature. They are renewable, CO2 neutral, completely biodegradable and have biocompatible characteristics. Moreover, polysaccharides offer a very promising source for materials for food and polymer applications. One class of functional polysaccharides that has the potentiality to be used for food and non-food applications (paper, textile, packaging, etc.) is represented by microbes. Functional polysaccharides can found in the surrounding environment with no obvious association to anyone particular microbial cell. Different kinds of functional polysaccharides produced by bacteria or algae. These functional polysaccharides are potentially interesting feedstock for products to be used as food thickener, gelling agent, and even for biodegradable plastic applications.

Frita Yuliati

(; +31 50 363 4497 )

Supervisor: Hero Jan Heeres and Prof.dr. Francesco Picchioni

Project: Thermoreversible Thermosetting Polymers from Vegetable Oils
Thermoreversible thermosetting polymers are attractive because of their superior mechanical properties, ability of self-healing, and possibility of cradle-to-cradle recycling. The use of renewable precursors results in even more “green” products. In this work, we employ two vegetable oils as raw materials for the synthesis of the vegetable oil-based thermally reversible networks.

Jatropha curcas oil is a promising renewable raw material due to its anticipated high production capabilities. The oil consist of about three C-C double bonds, making it possible to modify the oil, e.g via epoxidation. Furan moieties are attached to the epoxidized oil, resulting in molecules bearing one or more furan groups. These molecules are cross-linked with maleimide-bearing molecules in a Diels-Alder reaction. It is also possible to add other furan-bearing molecules during cross-linking to achieve polymers with tunable properties.

The second oil used in this project is obtained from the seeds of Sterculia foetida. The oil is very unique because cyclopropenes are present in its triglyceride structure. Cyclopropene is a dienophile, thus able to undergo Diels-Alder reaction with dienes. There is an opportunity to directly cross-link sterculia oil to produce thermoreversible polymers in a single step.

Master students

Daniel Schilder

( )

Supervisor: Dr. P. Raffa

Project: Polymeric surfactants from sugar derivatives
In this project we are making polymeric surfactants from sugar derived molecules. In this project we work together with several companies, from end user to sugar supplier. We aim at generating polymeric surfactants by controlled radical polymerisation and test the properties of this (new) polymeric surfactant, to see if it is possible to apply them in several end products ranging from paint additives to cosmetic products. The start of this project is the synthesis of sugar acrylate, in which a conventional acrylate is modified by attachment of a sugar molecule. This is followed by (controlled) radical polymerisation of this sugar acrylate. The polymer is subsequently going to be modified by grafting hydrophobic blocks. Last the rheological properties and surface activity of this polymer are going to be determined.

Mart van Schooten

( )

Supervisor: Frita Yuliati (daily supervisor) Francesco Picchioni (formal supervisor)

Project: Thermoreversible thermosets
In this project we are aiming to make a thermoreversible thermoset using Diels-Alder chemistry. Low molecular weight polyketones and processed vegetable oil will be functionalized with furan groups (to different degrees), and will be cross-linked using bismaleimide. The resulting thermoset will be tested on inter alia its thermoreversibility, tensile strength and chemical resistance, after which its applicability will be evaluated.

Johan van de Loosdrecht

( )

Supervisor: Pablo Druetta - Francesco Picchioni

Project: Numerical modeling of three phase Enhanced Oil Recovery
Waterflooding techniques can recover only up to 20-40% of the oil available in a reservoir. Using an enhanced oil recovery technique, chemical flooding, the total recovery can be increased to 80-90%. A polymeric surfactant is injected to the system, forming under certain salinity a third phase consisting of water, chemical and tiny oil droplets. This third phase, called microemulsion. In this 3-phase system, the interfacial tension reaches a minimum and increase the capillary number is therefore increased in the reservoir. This improves the oleic phase mobility and thus the recovery of the oil. Numerical simulations using the finite difference method are used to study the behavior of the system. Equations for physical phenomena like rock/fluid compressibility, non-Newtonian behavior, surfactant adsorption, random permeability field effects and interfacial tension are numerically solved for a Winsor III type system in porous media. The results are used to predict the behavior of the cumulative oil recovery for several years.
With the gained insights the oil recovery from a reservoir can be maximized.

Loes van der Net

( )

Supervisor: Dr. P. Raffa

Project: Polymeric surfactants from sugar derivatives
In this project polymeric surfactants based on sugar-derivatives (from beet pulp waste) were investigated. The use of these bio-based monomeric units in polymeric surfactants is of great interest for several companies joining the project, from sugar supplier (involved in the design stage) to the end-users of the final application of these polymeric surfactants in several relevant industries.
In the beginning of the research project a new pathway for the synthesis of a monomer from a specific monosaccharide was investigated. The monomer was used in controlled living polymerization reactions to create polymers containing sugar-based hydrophilic units. Several diblock copolymers from NIPAM (with a LCST) and the sugar-based monomer were formed with systematically varying distributions of blocks along the polymer chain. The prepared polymers were analysed for what concerns their rheological properties and surface activity for the determination of reliable structure-property relationships.

Leonie Zant

( )

Supervisor: Dr. P. Raffa

Project: Polymeric surfactants from sugar derivatives
Within this project we will prepare a polymeric surfactant based on sugar derivatives. The homo-polymer will be prepared from a monomer which is obtained by the waste of sugar beet. The sugar derivative was provided by Royal Cosun. The monomer synthesis will be further investigated to optimize the procedure. Furthermore NIPAM will be used to prepare a Temperature-responsive polymeric surfactant. Furthermore upscaling of the process will be investigated to show feasibility within industry.
This end product could be used within the cosmetic or paint industry for the use of new biobased product. This project gives the opportunity to turn waste of sugar beet into a valuable end product for the cosmetic or paint industry.

Jasper Paauwe

( )

Supervisor: Patrizio Raffa, Katja Loos, Francesco Picchioni

Project: Synthesis of amphiphilic co-polymers as water viscosifiers
The modification of both rheology and surface activity of water solutions is of paramount importance for the formulation of many industrial products (detergents, paints, coatings, chemical enhanced oil recovery, etc.). In order to achieve control over these relevant properties, complex mixtures of chemicals are often required. In general, high-molecular weight polymers serve as viscosifiers, while traditional low-molecular weight surfactants decrease the surface activity. However, for some applications, the use of these mixtures is often not satisfactory. Alternatives might be amphiphilic polymers. Amphiphilic block copolymers such as polystyrene-b-poly((meth)acrylic acid) proved to be effective water viscosifiers at relatively low concentrations. ATRP is used as a polymerization technique to prepare various copolymers with different structures and compositions, in particular incorporating intrinsically surface active monomers, such as a PEG-acrylate. These different polymers are characterized and compared by their rheological properties.

Nathalie Buurman

( )

Supervisor: Daily: Patrizio Raffa, 1st: Francesco Picchioni, 2nd: Paolo Pescarmona

Project: Triblock copolymers with increased thermostability for sneakers.
The rubber used for shoe soles incorporates triblock copolymers consisting out of styrene (end-blocks) and butadiene (mid-block) (SBS-rubber). Due to the hard styrene and the flexible soft butadiene the properties are suited for shoe soles. The rubbers however, start deforming just above 95 degrees Celsius. When firmly braking a sprint, this temperature can locally be easily reached. Therefore, this research for new rubbers with similar properties and higher deformation temperatures is introduced. The widely applied SBS-rubber is compared with triblock rubbers consisting of butyl acrylate (mid-block) and styrene and crosslinked furfuryl methacrylate, FMA (end-blocks). The ‘new’ triblock copolymers are synthesized via Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization (ATRP) and crosslinked via Diels Alder reaction. The rubbers are subsequently characterized using NMR, GPC, TGA, DSC and IR. Finally, their mechanical properties will be measured and compared with the standard SBS-rubber.