Discover our research

Thrust 3 targets and removes sources of fouling and scaling in feed water going into water treatment processes.

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We develop effective pretreatment methods using unique nano-scale interfacial phenomena that ensure water systems operate stably and reliably with a wide range of feed waters, as well as produce water that does not foul or form scales when reused.

We will develop effective pre-treatment methods and high-performance anti-fouling membranes.

Current Research Projects

Selective Electrosorption for Silica Removal and Scaling Prevention

Develop an electrosorption process to remove silica from saline water to minimize the scaling propensity of downstream membrane processes. Our approach uses an engineered electrode to convert (at high pH and with no added chemicals) a weak adsorption form of silica to a strong adsorption form. We hypothesize that (i) silica removal kinetics will be substantially enhanced as compared to traditional adsorption due to the contribution of electromigrative transport and (ii) regeneration of electrodes by charge (voltage) reversal will be much more efficient than chemical addition.

New materials and module designs for multifunctional, self-cleaning electrochemical membrane modules

Conductive membranes, combined with stimuli responsive polymer brushes, can enable rapid and cost-effective surface cleaning for a range of foulants, including biofilms, gypsum, and silica. This project has four main aims. Make conductive coatings that limit potential drop across the membrane module length. Attach responsive polymer brushes on the conductive coatings that can be controlled with the current. Use the brushes to electrochemically clean silica and biofilms efficiently. Design novel high packing density electrochemical membrane modules.

Selective ion transport: from fundamentals to functional materials

Develop new materials with high selectivity for removal of scale-forming ions (e.g., Ca2+, Ba2+, SO42-). Incorporate those materials into continuous treatment processes. We aim to engineer channels similar to those found in biological systems to accomplish this high selectivity. We hypothesize that molecular binding sites (selectively removing water shells from ions) combined with precisely tailored pore/channel morphology are the key variables. We will first investigate selective ion adsorption using chemically-tailored polymers, covalent organic frameworks, and metal organic frameworks to create unique combinations of nanopore morphology and high-affinity chemical moieties. Next, we will incorporate promising materials into ion-exchange membranes and coatings capable of selectively transporting target ions. Finally, we will develop processes for selective ion removal using these new membranes and materials.

Selective Separation of Li – Technoeconomic analysis

Selective Separation of Co

Previous Projects

Nanotemplate-assisted mineral nucleation

Solution-processable antifouling coatings based on bottlebrush polymers

Research highlights

Removal of calcium ions from water by selective electrosorption using target-ion specific nanocomposite electrode
Kim, J. Jain, A. Zuo, K. Verduzco, R. Walker, S., Elimelech, M. Zhang, Z. Zhang, X. Li, Q.

Scaling Resistance in Nanophotonics-Enabled Solar Membrane Distillation
Rice, D. Ghadimi, S.J. Barrios, A.C. Henry, S. Walker, W.S., Li, Q. Perreault, F.

Student Spotlight

Scaling and Fouling are a multi-billion dollar problem in the water industry. This problem will only grow as suppliers turn to more challenging water sources. Developing treatment processes that can precede membrane systems will reduce the operating costs of treating these more challenging waters. Thrust 3 engineers and tests nanomaterials that will lead to these targeted anti-fouling and anti-scaling processes.