Water quality monitoring at hydraulic fracturing sites using molecularly imprinted porous hydrogels

EPA Grant Number: SU836124
Title: Water quality monitoring at hydraulic fracturing sites using molecularly imprinted porous hydrogels
Investigators: Fidalgo, Maria
Institution: University of Missouri - Columbia
EPA Project Officer: Sergeant, Anne
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2016
Project Amount: $14,997
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , Sustainability , P3 Challenge Area - Water


The objective of this project is to develop a highly sensitive and specific monitoring device capable of simultaneously detecting a group of contaminants in water associated with hydraulic fracturing operations that have been identified as endocrine disruptors (EDC). The proposed device includes several individual chemical sensors fabricated from molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs), and can be deployed in the environment to determine single concentrations levels and/or average concentrations throughout the deployment period. The advancement of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) extraction technologies has led to their abundance in the United States and the trend is expected to continue for the next few decades. However, environmental concerns have been raised since UOG operations can contaminate surface and ground water with chemicals known to have negative health effects. The development of a sensor for rapid detection of contamination would limit the potential negative impact of this process, thus making it much more sustainable.


The use of MIPs and MIP-enabled devices in natural waters is recognized as a significant challenge, still unsolved. MIPs can be engineered not only to very specifically capture and concentrate organic contaminants in water at extremely low concentration, i.e. below current gold standard analytical techniques, but can also be designed to quantify the capture level and produce a signal proportional to the captured contaminant mass that can be transmitted in real time from remote sites to a central monitoring facility. Moreover, the high specificity allows for the fabrication of MIPs arrays targeting a definite group of contaminants.

We will fabricate and characterize highly porous MIP thin polymeric films. Secondly, we will explore the selectivity and specificity of MIPs for a group of selected organic pollutant associated with hydraulic fracturing operations, identified as having significant ECD potential. Lastly, we will investigate the effect of analogues and potential interference by natural organic matter or dissolved substances in natural waters.

Expected Results:

The expected outcomes of this Phase I project are MIP films designed to recognize the selected contaminants. We will research the effect of natural water in the capture behavior and the equilibrium recognition capacity at different contaminant concentrations. This information constitute the basis for the development of a sensing device (Phase II) composed of an array of MIPs, individually designed to capture each one of EDCs, that could be deployed at potentially impacted or at risk sites to monitor surface and /or groundwater contamination by hydraulic fracturing activity.

Supplemental Keywords:

water, health effects, pollution prevention, petroleum industry