PFI-TT: Prototype Development for Wastewater Separations Membranes

Grants and Contracts Details


Societal Need and Customer: The world’s drinking water is becoming increasingly unsafe through the increasing concentration of current contaminants and introduction of new contaminants. With billions in sales, it is evident that there is a wide awareness of the problem of unclean water. The filtration market is growing, with a moderate degree of competition, and the Bloomberg World Water Index has outperformed the oil, gas, and basic material indexes for a number of years. This suggests that a product that is technically sound and competitively priced to the market should be successful. Furthermore, in Europe, the use of petroleumderived hazardous will be banned in 2020. Therefore, there is an urgent need to explore alternatives for the traditional solvents, specifically green ones. Through NSF IIP 2017133 ICorps grant, 114 potential customers were interviewed and it was determined that the best customer for the innovation would be process engineers at membrane manufacturing facilities. Through the interviews, it was determined that their primary pain point was meeting wastewater regulations upon expanding operations. Value Proposition: Again, thanks to the NSF ICorps grant, we developed the value proposition that we can provide the green process that the membrane manufacturers need to comply with new regulations when they expand (operations). Innovation: Our group developed a novel and green process of fabricating polysulfone ultrafiltration membranes using two environmentally friendly solvents, methyl 5-(dimethylamino)-2-methyl-5-oxopentanoate (Rhodiasolv® PolarClean) and gamma-valerolactone (GVL). Furthermore, we developed a novel reaction mechanism to introduce silver nanoparticles to membranes in a one-step process using the affinity of silver nanoparticles to thiol groups. This innovative chemistry allows for the membranes to be made in one step; that is, without additional functionalization steps. Partnership: The main partner will be Prof. Tequila Harris from Georgia Institute of Technology. Harris is the director of the Polymer Thin Film Processing Laboratory. Her work focuses on investigating the fundamental science associated with manufacture of polymer thin films from fluids (e.g., solutions, dispersions, slurries, etc.) as they are coated onto permeable or impermeable surfaces to make components or devices. Escobar and Harris have partnered in numerous projects, where Escobar develops novel chemistries for membrane separations, and Harris determines the mechanisms of scaling these up. Therefore, this partnership will allow for prototype development. Furthermore, we also propose to partner with NovaCentrix for the development and use of green silver nanoparticles. Training and Leadership Development in Innovation and Entrepreneurship: The graduate student who will participate in this project will come from PI Escobar’s NSF NRT IN FELLoWS grant. The PFI-TT student will participate in an innovative model for graduate student training by addressing ingrained issues associated with a monodisciplinary approach. As part of the NRT IN FELLoWS program, the PI will work on an individual development plan for the student to accommodate to expose them to entrepreneurial educational (through the IN FELLoWS program) and activities (through this PFI-TT grant).
Effective start/end date8/1/211/31/24


  • National Science Foundation: $331,999.00


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