Faculty Advisor

Robert W. Thompson

Faculty Advisor

David DiBiasio


Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE) contamination of groundwater and surface waters has become a relevant environmental and public safety concern in recent years. This anthropogenic compound is now persistent at low concentrations in several valuable ground and surface water locations within the United States due largely to the widespread production of MTBE for use as a fuel oxygenate in conjunction with negligent underground storage practices during the 1980's and 1990's. Though there are several treatment strategies for the remediation of MTBE spill sites, the most efficient strategy may be adsorption of MTBE by a packed column of silicalite-1 adsorbent. Effective adaption of this technology requires cheap production of silicalite-1 sorbent packing particles on the order of 3 millimeters diameter. This work entails the development of a new synthesis process which results in sufficient in-situ crystallization of silicalite-1 aggregates within a 3 millimeter spherical amorphous silica gel source. The crystal aggregates sizes can be tuned from 5 to 70 µm, depending on synthesis parameters, and the finished silicalite-1 aggregate particle takes the shape of the amorphous gel source. These aggregate particles, when containing a small amorphous core, should be suitable for packed adsorption column applications. Multiple hydrothermal synthesis experiments were performed by batch methods featuring silica gel spheres as the sole silica source for the batch. Zeolite nucleation and crystal growth were demonstrated throughout the amorphous bead. Synthesis parameters were optimized both for short synthesis times, optimal mechanical properties, and cost effectiveness. The influence of product crystal size on particle hardness was also investigated. The packing production process is sufficiently ready for supporting pilot scale adsorption studies.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





groundwater remediation, MTBE, zeolite synthesis, zeolite morphology