Research

Ongoing Research Thrusts: Google Scholar
 
1) Re-thinking the Policies and Management Practices Behind Aqueous Separations: Meeting water demand in a carbon-constrained world requires deploying water treatment capacity efficiently. We have established a framework for assessing the spatially resolved air-water emissions tradeoffs associated with water treatment and developed generalizable, multi-objective optimization models for minimizing the costs and environmental impacts of these processes. We have applied these models to support emerging needs for water treatment systems in the energy and agricultural industries, with special attention given to optimization of water treatment from shale gas production, water treatment at coal fired power plants, water treatment for geologic carbon sequestration, and water treatment for agricultural irrigation.
 

2)  Re-defining the Inputs to the Water Desalination Process: Step changes in energy efficiency will require that we re-define the inputs to the desalination process by enabling processes that leverage low-temperature waste heat as the driving force for desalination and by developing desalination processes that operate closer to the thermodynamic limit for high salinity and low salinity feed streams.  We have modeled the quantity, quality, and spatial-temporal availability of residual heat from the US power sector and used process modeling and optimization to evaluate the technical feasibility of integrating water and energy systems via forward osmosis and membrane distillation technologies. We have also developed and evaluated a novel osmotically assisted reverse osmosis process for high salinity brine treatment, and we have evaluated the origins of low efficiency in capacitive deionization systems with a focus on novel process configurations that circumvent inherent water stability limitations.

3) Re-envisioning the Membrane: Nanostructured Materials for Enhanced Flux, Reduced Fouling, and Improved Selectivity: Nanoscale control of the chemistry, morphology, and orientation in thin-films has the potential to significantly improve the technical and economic viability of novel desalination processes. Our lab works on three specific problems related to membrane materials: 1) low flux of membrane distillation membranes, 2) fouling of membrane surfaces, and 3) low selectivity for small or similarly charged solutes. Future work will continue in these areas, with a focus on developing fundamental insights into structure-function relationships of materials performance and self-assembly processes.