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College of Engineering and Applied Science

    Back to SeminarsAdd Seminar

Presenter: Coleman Henry
Date: 1/23/2018
Time: 10:00 am
Location: EN 2104
Contact Email:

Topic: Elucidation of water transport mechanisms across salt-rejecting membranes driven by soil-water potential energy
Abstract: The world faces a water crisis due to population growth, climate change, and pollution of freshwater. This crisis strikes at the heart of the water-food-energy nexus. We must find new ways to provide clean water at low-energy costs to meet the demands of food production and water needs for the future. Membrane separations, specifically membrane desalination, offer a potential solution; however, they face challenges due to high operational costs (e.g., capital, energy consumption, and maintenance). To reduce these cost, researchers look at alternatives to hydraulic pressure to transport water across membranes. In this project, we have looked to the natural world for answers and found, beneath our feet, a potential solution. Soil contains potential energy which moves water from saturated to dry soil to achieve equilibrium. These potentials include gravity, vapor pressure, osmotic gradients, and soil hydrophilicity (i.e., matric potential) which are similar to alternative water transport drivers in membrane systems. Placing a polymer membrane next to soils with high potential energy will draw water from across the membrane and into the soil creating a subsurface membrane process or irrigation system. This in-situ water treatment process has the potential to operate at lower energies than traditional membrane technologies. However, currently, the water flux achieved is lower than hydraulically driven counterparts and there are unanswered questions related to the roles soil potential components have on water transport. Furthermore, the behavior of the membrane and its associated properties have not been investigated for how they respond to the specific potentials found in soil. For these reasons, there are gaps in our knowledge that prevent soil-membrane processes from reaching full potential. Therefore, the goal of this research is to advance subsurface membrane technology to enhance the opportunities to reduce water stress. Specifically, the first research aim is to elucidate the mechanisms governing water transport across membranes in soil systems. Which means investigating the roles of soil potential energy and membrane properties as they relate to water flux. Secondly, after the water transport mechanism are better understood, this research proposes tailoring membrane properties to the subsurface environment by supplementing nanomaterials into the polymer membrane structure. The property enhancement of these nanocomposite membranes will likely have carry-over success to subsurface membranes which may increase performance. In summary, this research strikes back at the water crisis by providing a water treatment option characterized by minimal energy consumption, integrated renewable energy resources, and flexible feed water quality requirements.


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