My group uses surface chemistry and systems engineering to innovate new technologies aimed at achieving: Clean Energy, Clean Water, Clean Air, and to Teach Students to think critically, solve problems logically, and conduct research in a time and cost effective manner. The Monnell Research team uses a  multi-faceted research approach that intersects chemistry, materials science, biochemistry and environmental engineering aimed at identifying and maximizing the chemical and physical interactions between environmentally relevant materials.   We achieve this through modification of surface properties via directed self assembly on the molecular, single particle, and aggregate levels.  By being able to selectively modify materials in both planar and three-dimensional geometries we can tune the reactivity and catalytic properties of existing materials. We use these modified materials, coupled with custom engineered pilot scale systems to produce clean energy, water and air solutions.

Monnell Group’s Projects

Clean Energy

Phase II: Reuse of Treated Internal or External Wastewaters in the Cooling Systems of Coal-based Thermoelectric Power Plants

             In this project we are studying the re-use of water and what needs to happen in order for water to be reused to prevent excessive corrosion, biofouling and scaling within the system that re-uses it. I designed, spec’ed out and helped build four pilot scale cooling towers that we have used for the last 4 years to conduct 5 months of field research annually. Kudos to the team (Sean, Heng, Wenshi, and collaborators from CMU) for babysitting these in the field and making this project work as well as it has.

             Check out the report that covers Phase I

R. D. Vidic, D.A. Dzombak, J.D. Monnell, S. H. Chien, M. K. Hsieh, H. Li “Reuse of Treated Internal or External Wastewaters in the Cooling Systems of Coal-based Thermoelectric Power Plants” Final Report Prepared for U.S. Department of Energy in fulfillment of GRANT NO.: DE-FC26-06NT42722  August 2009


Bio/phytoremediation of Marginal Lands

  In this project we have built a greenhouse and are using it and field plots to evaluate the ability of bio-fuel plants to phyto-remediate contaminated soils. Pictured below is Xi Zhao, Kayla Reddington, and Chris Rovensky after we put up with greenhouse walls. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and incorporates materials donated by Alcoa.












Clean Water

Reuse of Treated Internal or External Wastewaters in the Cooling Systems of Coal-based Thermoelectric Power Plants

             By re-using water, we can avoid having to withdraw other waters from aquifers, surface waters and other sources. This project is described pretty well above, but Check out the report, Ming-Kai’s dissertation from CMU, as well as Heng Li’s dissertation and accompanying manuscripts that have recently been put to press.

Mitigation Strategies for Acid Rock Discharge into Johnathan Run and Best Management Practices for Highway Construction

In this project, Ron Neufeld and I have done a lot of work including designing vertical flow wetlands and active treatment system for treating acid mine drainage, as well as basic science investigating Al leaching from soils and its interactions with other environmental concerns.  See Oscar, Kent Pu and Jordan Smoke’s final documents for more details (a lot more details). This work was funded by PennDOT.

Long-Term Monitoring of Streams in Frick Park (Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy)

In this project we are determining the sources of contamination within the Frick Park Watershed.  We are working with Nine Mile Run Conservancy and the Pittsburgh Parks to facilitate revitalization of this heavily used and impacted area.


Clean Air Closed Projects (while at the University of Pittsburgh)

Sequestration of Hg from Coal Fired Power Plant Flue Gas using Activated Carbons

In this set of experiments we are testing the Hg sorption capacity of selected media in packed bed reactor followed by an in-line semi-continuous monitoring system (PSA Sir Galahad II).




Catalysis for Selective Hydrogen Sulfide Oxidation    

This project investigated the ability of activated carbon supported metal oxides to sequester and catalytically decompose H2S

· Huixing's Thesis (April 2008)

· H. Li, J. D. Monnell, M.A. Alvin, and R. D. Vidic  “Factors affecting activated carbon-based catalysts for selective hydrogen sulfide oxidation”, Main Group Chemistry,7:3,239-250 (2008)

· Li, H.;Monnell, J. D.; Vidic, R. D.,Activated carbon-based catalysts for selective hydrogen sulfide oxidation. Preprints of Symposia - American Chemical Society, Division of Fuel Chemistry 2008, 53, (1), 176-17


Engineering in the Classroom

 CEE2511 and ENGR0715 are field and laboratory based learning where samples are acquired in the field, tested in the lab, and results communicated to stakeholders via written reports and oral presentations. Stakeholders include local NGO and conservancy organizations. Detailed observation and record keeping as well as high attention to detail are stressed for all stages of the course. Topics addressed include acquiring and handling field samples, chain of custody, laboratory based analytical methods for analyzing environmental samples, technical writing, data interpretation and presentation to professionals..