cleaning up nuclear energy

Houston research team discovers new application for crystals in nuclear energy

Radioactive waste is an obstacle to nuclear energy adoption potential. This research team from the University of Houston has discovered a potential solution. Photo via

Researchers at the University of Houston have unlocked a new way to use crystals to safely dispose of radioactive waste.

The team of UH researchers published a paper in Cell Reports Physical Science this month detailing their discovery of how to use molecular crystals to capture large quantities of iodine, one of the most common products of radioactive fission, which is used to create nuclear energy.

According to a statement from UH, these molecular crystals are based on cyclotetrabenzil hydrazones. Ognjen Miljanic, professor of chemistry and author of the paper, and his team have created the organic molecules containing only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, which create ring-like crystals with eight smaller offshoots, earning them the nickname "The Octopus."

The discovery was made by Alexandra Robles, the first author of the study and a former doctoral student in Miljanic’s lab.

The crystals have an uptake capacity similar to that of porous metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs), which traditionally have been considered the “pinnacle of iodine capture materials," according to UH. They allow iodine to be moved from one area to another, are reusable and can be produced using commercially available chemicals for about $1 per gram in an academic lab.

“They are quite easy to make and can be produced at a large scale from relatively inexpensive materials without any special protective atmosphere,” Miljanic said in a statement.

The team also believes the crystals can be used to capture additional elements like carbon dioxide.

“This is a type of simple molecule that can do all sorts of different things depending on how we integrate it with the rest of any given system,” Miljanic continued. “So, we’re pursuing all those applications as well.”

Next up, Miljanic is looking to find a partner that will help the team explore practical applications and commercial aspects.

UH has been making net-zero news lately. A team of students from UH placed in the top three teams in a national competition for the Department of Energy earlier this summer. The college also shared details about its forthcoming innovation hub, which will house UH's Energy Transition Institute, as well as other centers and programs.

Joseph Powell, founding director of UH's Energy Transition Institute, sat down with EnergyCapitalHTX last week to talk about UH's vision for the organization.

Ognjen Miljanic is a University of Houston professor of chemistry and author of the paper. Photo via

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

ACCEL has opened applications for next year. Photo via Getty Images

Calling all cleantech startups founded by innovators of color — an inclusive accelerator program is now accepting applications.

Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL, has opened applications for it's second cohort. The program — from Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space — provides access to funding, networking connections, incubation space, mentorship, resources, and opportunities for energy tech founders of color for a year.

“ACCEL is one of the most impactful, meaningful programs we’ve run to date,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “We are eager to expand upon the great success and momentum of year one, and to welcome another incredible cohort of BIPOC-led startups that are developing much-needed climatetech solutions. We’re equally committed to helping these companies accelerate and deploy their solutions, while also helping to build a more diverse, inclusive climatetech workforce—ACCEL sits at the nexus of those two critical efforts.”

The program, supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, accelerated six startups this year — Active Surfaces, DrinKicks, EarthBond, florrent, frakktal, and SpadXTech.

“The ACCEL Program directly aligns with our mission to ensure that climatetech jobs and wealth creation opportunities are available to all residents of the Commonwealth,” Emily Reichert, CEO at MassCEC and former CEO at Greentown, says in the release. “We are excited to see the second round of this important program, with our Equity Workforce Fund support fostering a partnership between Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space aimed at accelerating the growth of minority and women business enterprises in Massachusetts.”

ACCEL, which doles out $25,000 in non-dilutive grant funding to each participant, is also supported by Boston-based Barr Foundation and provides programming from VentureWell, a nonprofit with expertise in climatetech.

“Through our partnership with Greentown and VentureWell, we are able to put our respective strengths together to create an ambitious program to bolster founders of color in climatetech and propel innovations that benefit communities most impacted by climate change,” Kerry Bowie, executive director and president of Browning the Green Space, says in the release. “Opening applications for Year 2 of ACCEL is an important milestone in strengthening critical support for traditionally excluded entrepreneurs in our communities.”

Applications for ACCEL are open until January 5, 2024. While entrepreneurs from anywhere can apply, preference will be given to applicants in Greater Boston and Greater Houston, where Greentown’s incubators are located.

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