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CAREER: Catalytic Hollow-Fiber Membranes as an Efficient and Scalable Process in Water Treatment


The use of industrial chemicals has increased dramatically over the past century. This has led to widespread contamination of water supplies. Several contaminants cannot be removed using common water-treatment technologies, potentially impacting human health. To address this problem, the investigator will develop a highly innovative water treatment system that uses nanotechnology-based catalysts. These catalysts increase the rate of a chemical reaction to efficiently clean water in a cost-effective way. Results from this research may lead to a transformative technology for low cost water treatment. The researchers will create virtual reality tours of water treatment facilities in college courses that can be accessed by the public to promote a better understanding of how environmental engineers protect human health.<br/><br/>The objective of this research is to develop nano-enabled catalysts to solve fundamental and applied water quality problems. Heterogeneous hydrogenation catalysts (HHCs) are a promising treatment option for numerous environmentally-persistent contaminants such as halogenated and oxygenated organic compounds. Recent advancements in nanotechnology make HHCs more feasible as a water treatment technology, with the achievement of higher reaction rates and better reaction selectivity for innocuous by-products. However, challenges remain due to catalyst cost and mass transport limitations. This research will investigate the kinetic mechanisms, stability, and scalability of a new HHC reactor - the catalytic hydrogel membrane (CHM) reactor. The CHM consists of a gas-permeable hollow-fiber membrane coated with hydrogel-containing catalyst nanoparticles. Using a suite of advanced electrochemical and spectroscopy tools, the specific tasks of this research are to: i) quantify bulk reaction and film diffusion rates in model and real water systems; ii) identify the mechanisms of catalyst deactivation; iii) quantify the mechanical properties of the hydrogel support; iv) model the performance of a scaled-up, continuous-flow CHM reactor; and v) investigate the applicability of CHM for emerging drinking water contaminants. Complimentary to these research objectives are the investigator?s educational goals to enhance graduate training through research, improve undergraduate education using virtual reality (VR) modules, increase underrepresented group participation in engineering, and use outreach to excite and educate the public about water quality. To enhance undergraduate education and provide outreach opportunities for all ages, the investigator will develop and use VR tours of water treatment facilities. This CAREER program will have far-reaching science, education, and societal impacts, and it directly address the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge of providing access to clean water.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Kyle Doudrick
University of Notre Dame
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