A student’s mission to protect the world’s most precious resource

Desalination of seawater by membrane processes. Credit: Johnson Effoe Efome

Hooman Chamani, a PhD candidate in Ottawa, is motivated by one thing: to tackle the global water crisis in an environmentally responsible way. It may sound simple, but until recently it wasn’t.

Today, thanks to his work alongside Dr Christopher Lan and Dr Takeshi Matsuura, professors in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Ottawa, and their research team, Joanne Woloszyn and Dr Dipak Rana , a … yet commercially viable, a solution that improves current desalination techniques has been identified.

Their work, “Pore wetting in membrane distillation: A complete review”, was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal of Advances in Materials Science and identifies “membrane distillation” marketed as a green solution for clean drinking water.

“With membrane distillation commercially available on a large scale, we can move towards a solution to the water crisis,” says lead author Hooman Chamani.

The blue planet

While the Earth is mostly covered with water, the availability of natural freshwater is relatively low, accounting for only 2.5% of its hydrosphere, with the remaining 97.5% being salt water.

As the population increases, the demand for water also increases, which puts pressure on its limited quantity.

“More than two billion people in the world do not have access to drinking water,” explains Hooman Chamani. “Even in Canada, endowed with abundant freshwater resources, you can find areas that suffer from water scarcity. Human activities such as urbanization and industrialization are fueling the problem by polluting available freshwater supplies. contributes greatly to the global water scarcity.

Desalination is the process of removing salts and minerals from salt water to obtain fresh water.

“The state-of-the-art technique for seawater desalination is reverse osmosis,” explains lead author Christopher Lan. “However, a major drawback of this technique is its inability to desalinate very concentrated brines (salt water). An alternative method of desalination, better equipped to handle very saline solutions, is membrane distillation.”

Wetting of the membrane pores

So, if membrane distillation is a better way to get clean water, why hasn’t it been widely marketed yet?

According to the researchers, the most predominant disadvantage of membrane distillation is called “membrane pore wetting”.

“If this problem is resolved, it is highly likely that membrane distillation will replace reverse osmosis as the preferred desalination technique,” ​​says Takeshi Matsuura. “We have tried to make membrane distillation more commercially viable, in particular by tackling the problem of pore wetting from a fundamental aspect. In the review article, we presented a comprehensive review of recent developments, including our own, to prevent membrane pores from getting wet. “

“In our review, we discuss all aspects of pore wetting, which is the most critical challenge of membrane distillation, in order to better understand this unwanted phenomenon with the most advanced knowledge in this field.”

Safe for us and the environment

“The brine released by reverse osmosis is very concentrated and its disposal has become a critical environmental challenge,” explains Hooman Chamani. “Therefore, treating highly saline brines using commercially available membrane distillation not only provides drinking water to more people, but also manages the brines and protects the environment. “

But it is not a simple task.

“After many years of work in this area, our group has identified pore wetting as one of the most critical issues in membrane distillation,” concludes Dr. Christopher Lan. “Hooman Chamani took issue with this issue, which resulted in a number of high impact posts. He is one of the best PhD students we have ever had in our lab, and he is driven by one goal: to find a solution for the water crisis by commercializing membrane distillation on a large scale.

Making seawater drinkable in minutes

More information:
Hooman Chamani et al, Pore wetting in membrane distillation: a comprehensive review, Advances in Materials Science (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.pmatsci.2021.100843

Provided by the University of Ottawa

Quote: A Student’s Mission to Protect the World’s Most Valuable Resource (2021, August 25) retrieved August 28, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-08-student-mission-world-precious- resource.html

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