NSF Project Awarded to Chaplin Group

ChE Assistant Professor Brian Chaplin was awarded a new NSF-grant entitled “Multifunctional Electro-reactive Membranes for Efficient Biomass Separation”. The grant is for $160,000 with an effective start date of 9/1/2016.


This collaborative research project will develop efficient, scalable, and multifunctional reactive electrochemical membranes (REMs) for sustainable biomass harvesting and production of value-added products derived from biomass (e.g., biofuels and specialty chemicals). Biomass separation using membrane filtration is characterized by high operational cost due to severe membrane fouling and the need for frequent backwashing. The proposed research will use the REMs to mitigate membrane fouling, pretreat biomass to facilitate economical harvesting, and remove the toxic inhibitors that will promote water reuse. The research outcomes will advance the fundamental science and engineering in biomass separation, and potentially lead to critical, transformative technologies for biomass and food processing, drinking water treatment, and biomolecule purification in the pharmaceutical industries.

This work will use algae as a model biomass organism, and will focus on characterizing membrane fouling, water reuse for algae regrowth, and electrochemical pre-treatment of algal cells. Specific research tasks include (1) synthesis and characterization of a suite of tailored monolithic or nanofibrous REMs for algal recovery; (2) evaluation of algae separation efficiency, permeate water treatment, and anti-fouling properties of REMs; (3) elucidation of algae cell disruption and underlying mechanisms of electrochemical oxidation using microfluidic experiments; and (4) experimental and modeling assessment of membrane fouling and regeneration.

The results of this project are anticipated to lead to transformative solutions that address the grand challenges at the energy-water nexus. First, the research will provide fundamental guidelines to the design of REMs with excellent filtration performance, flexible design, and durability of operation. Secondly, the research will promote water and nutrient reuse in waste streams or cultivation media, which reduces water or energy footprints of renewable energy production. Thirdly, the project will train and mentor at least three Ph.D. students and a large number of undergraduate and senior high school students that will be recruited from underrepresented groups in STEM at the three collaborating institutions.


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