Professor Coppens's research philosophy is to learn from nature and biology in the development of sustainable chemical processes, materials and devices, an approach he calls Nature Inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE). Hypothesis-driven research on fundamental principles is merged with technologically oriented research.
Research in the Coppens group focuses on the investigation and use of fundamental mechanisms, patterns and symmetries appearing in nature, to theory- and simulation-assisted design of novel catalysts, reactors and membranes for applications in power and fuel production, resource-efficient chemical production, and environmental processes.
Much of Coppens's research involves porous materials, molecular transport and catalysis. At the heart of the proposed nature-inspired designs lies a better fundamental understanding of, and control over, physico-chemical phenomena spanning multiple length and time scales. For this reason, the Coppens group develops and uses mesoscopic theories, fractal geometry and nonlinear methods, and multi-scale statistical mechanical models.
Current research topics include:
- Fundamental studies of (bio-)molecular confinement on transport and reaction in nanoporous materials, including microporous zeolites, mesoporous materials (controlled nanopore size, surface roughness, chemical properties), protein crystals, and cell membranes
- Theory-assisted design and experimental synthesis of hierarchically structured, nanoporous catalysts with superior activity, selectivity and stability against deactivation
- Nature-inspired fuel cells, guided by the structure of the lung, using thermodynamic and catalytic optimization
- Bio-inspired membranes for water desalination and purification, guided by multiscale simulations on cell membranes
- Nature-inspired ways to structure multiphase reactors, such as the use of a tree-like fractal injector for uniform, scalable fluid distribution, and the use of oscillating gas flows to induce regular bubble patterns
- Fundamental studies of the thermodynamics and kinetics of self-assembly, from experimental studies on block copolymer micelles in solution, and bubbles in fluidized beds, to the agent- and event-based modeling of the emergence of living communities, as a basis for the design of complex materials.