Interview Bartolo |
VicInAqua is a medium-scale focused research project that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 689427.
11 partners from 7 European and African countries aims at developing an integrated approach for water management by providing an integral, sustainable, innovative, cost effective and robust solution for water sanitation combined with the demand for clean water in aquaculture and irrigation in the Lake Victoria basin.

Talking to...

Prof. Bartolo Gabriele, University of Calabria (UNICAL), Italy

Role in the VicInaqua project: Partner

Current position: Full Professor of Organic Chemistry

Expertise: Organic Synthesis

Main research interests: Development of novel catalytic methods for the production of high value added molecules, development of novel synthetic processes for carbon oxides reutilization, development of new materials for advanced applications (membrane technology in particular)


Prof. Bartolo Gabriele is Full Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Technologies of the University of Calabria, Italy. He received his degree in Chemistry (with honors) in 1990 from the University of Calabria (Italy), where he also completed his PhD in “Chemical Sciences” in 1994. In 1991 he joined Professor Chiusoli's group at the University of Parma (Italy) for 7 months. In 1995 he became a researcher in the field of Organic Chemistry at the University of Calabria. In 1997, he joined Professor Ronald Breslow's group at Columbia University (New York, USA) for 1 year as a NATO-CNR fellow. In 1998 he went back to the University of Calabria, where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2002 and to Full Professor in 2006. His current scientific production consists of 171 papers in international peer-reviewed journals, 9 chapters in international books, 18 industrial patents, and more than 240 presentations at national or international conferences (h-index: 45; April, 2019; source: Scopus). In 2013, Professor Gabriele received the “Research Award” from the Organic Chemistry Division of the Italian Chemical Society, in the field "Synthetic Organic Chemistry (Methodologies and Products)". In the framework of the Erasmus project, Professor Gabriele has been invited to speak at various PhD schools and national and international conferences. He is an international referee and editor in the field of Multidisciplinary and Organic Chemistry. Prof. Gabriele has been involved, as a coordinator or participant, in many national and international projects, and is currently UNICAL’s scientist responsible for the EU H2020 project “VicInAqua”.

Could you describe UNICAL’s role in the project?

The main role of Unical in the VicInAqua project has been the development of innovative and easily scalable synthesis of polymerizable quaternary ammonium salts (PQAs), to be employed as essential components in the fabrication of nanostructured membranes with antifouling and antibiofouling properties. Unical is also involved in the development of novel oxidation catalysts for conferring self-cleaning properties to the membranes.

Could you explain why the technology you have developed is so innovative?

The synthetic approach we developed has permitted us to synthesize an important class of PQAs (acryloyloxyalkyltriethylammonium bromides, AATEABs) in a very simple and cost-effective manner. The method is based on a two-step procedure, starting from uncostly starting materials, and does not require any chromatographic purification of neither the synthetic intermediate nor the final product, which is obtained by simple crystallization. The procedure is easily scalable, so up to 68 g of the final AATEB can be obtained in a single procedure in a lab-made scale-up apparatus. The AATEABs thus obtained (in particular, acryloyloxyundecyltriethyl ammonium bromide and acryloyloxydodecyltriethylammonium bromide, AUTEAB and ADTEAB, respectively) have shown significant antimicrobial activity, both as monomers and after UV-induced polymerization, and have been successfully employed for the production of the innovative self-cleaning “VicInAqua” membranes.

UNICAL has been involved in further national and international projects in the field. What convinced you to participate in VicInAqua in particular?

This project was very interesting and stimulating for me and my research group, since a main challenge was the chemical functionalization of commercial membranes through the chemical incorporation of surfactants with antimicrobial activity. Therefore, it suited my current research interests very well. It also presented a great opportunity to strengthen the scientific collaboration with ITM-CNR (Dr. Figolis’s group, in particular) and HSKA (Prof. Hoinkis’s group). Last but not least, it constituted a chance to contribute to the solution of a very important and stringent problem, namely water treatment and recycling.

Which main challenge(s) have you faced in VicInAqua and how did you cope with / solve them?

The main challenge was the scale-up of the sythesis of AATEABS. In the beginning, we tried to scale-up our synthetic procedure (which, of course, was initially optimized in lab-scale) using a relatively large stainless steel autoclave to perform the first synthetic step (an acryloylation reaction), but we faced problems related to autoclave corrosion. We thought about the possibility of using a Teflon-lined or Hastelloy autoclave, but it would have made the process too expensive for practical application. We eventually solved the problem by simply using a larger glassware apparatus, and we re-optimized the synthetic procedure in order to obtain the final product with the minimum amount of solvents and the highest yield possible.

What good practices have you learned from this project and what new developments will you get from it?

This project has been very important for me and my research group. It strengthened our awareness of the importance to apply our scientific research to the solving of fundamental problems of our society (such as water treatment, which is particularly stringent in some zones of the planets, like Africa). This will be a very strong stimulus for us to continue in this direction in the future. With our research, and of course in collaboration with other partners, we want to contribute more and more to the wellbeing of society.

Thank you Professor Bartolo Gabriele - Looking forward to hearing more about your work in the future!