Membrane materials with high hydrophobicity and permeability


Worldwide, 3.6 billion people are living in areas that experience water scarcity at least one month per year, and this figure is expected to increase to as much as 5.7 billion people by 2050 according to the United Nations. Alongside growing issues of water scarcity, current global energy demands far exceed the capacity for sustainable production, with more than 85% of energy production worldwide provided by fossil fuels.

The challenges of water and energy supply are closely linked. Water treatment and distribution systems currently account for around 4% of energy consumption in the United States, and this number is expected to grow as energy-intensive water production methods, such as desalination, are further expanded.  Similarly, more than 40% of U.S. water withdrawals are made by the energy sector with more water being needed as unconventional energy sources, such as shale gas, are exploited. Both water and energy will become even more critical resources as demand grows due to economic growth and climate change.

Innovative water treatment and power generation technologies will contribute to the portfolio of tools needed to address the challenges at the water-energy nexus. Our research group works to develop environmental technologies that can operate more efficiently and with greater versatility than state-of-the-art systems. To accomplish this, we conduct work across scales from small-scale materials design to laboratory-scale testing to system-level optimization.  Core topics in our research group are discussed below.  In general, we focus on the following:

  • Osmotic membrane systems for water treatment (reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, and related processes)
  • Thermal desalination systems such as membrane distillation
  • Novel materials for environmental applications
  • Sustainable production of energy from underutilized sources
  • System-level process design simulations