Nanotechnology key to new Desalination System

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8(Nanowerk News) The scarcity of fresh water is an  increasingly serious problem around the world due to growing populations and  diminishing supplies of fresh water. Desalination could help alleviate these  shortages, but it has traditionally been an extremely expensive process.
The demand for water is so great that the worldwide desalination  market is expected to reach an astonishing $87.8 billion by 2016, even though  only about 1 percent of the world’s drinking water is produced by desalination.  There is a huge need for technologies that could reduce this cost.
To help meet this need, the Innovation Fund, the University of  Chicago’s venture philanthropic proof-of-concept fund, awarded Heinrich Jaeger, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend  Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, $65,000 in its third round of  funding at the end of 2011 to establish the commercial feasibility of a  nanoparticle desalination system that Jaeger invented.
Heinrich Jaeger, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago
A  grant from the University of Chicago’s Innovation Fund will help Heinrich  Jaeger, PhD, establish the commercial feasibility of a nanoparticle desalination  system.
“In order for desalination to become a real solution to the  growing water scarcity problem, new technologies will be required to reduce the  major cost components of the process,” says Sean Sheridan, an assistant director  at UChicagoTech, which administers the Innovation Fund. “Professor Jaeger’s  nanofiltration technology represents a promising step towards achieving this  goal.”
The high cost of traditional desalination is driven by the price  of energy for high-pressure systems and the capital cost of high-pressure pumps  and seals. Today, recovery of capital and electric power add up to as much as  73% of the cost of desalinated water.
“Our system has the potential to cut these costs by using an  ultrathin self-assembled nanoparticle membrane,” Jaeger says. “Due to its  extreme thinness and excellent permeability characteristics, this nanofiltration  membrane can be used for a wide range of nanofiltration processes at low  pressures, including desalination.”  
The nanofiltration membrane was developed by Jaeger and Xiao-Min  Lin, scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, together with  University of Chicago postdocs Jinbo He, Edward Barry and Sean McBride. At about  30 nanometers, it is the world’s thinnest and has unique features that may turn  out to make the crucial difference with this technology. The size, shape and  chemical structure of the membrane’s pores can be systematically tuned to  optimize its filtration properties. As a result, it allows 100 times more flow  at the same pressure. In addition, the self-assembly process used to fabricate  it reduces costs.
UChicagoTech’s role
Jaeger has a close working relationship with UChicagoTech, which  is committed to supporting University faculty as they work to translate bench  science to commercial applications. He regularly updates the office on his new  ideas and research results. After he approached UChicagoTech with his initial  data about the nanofiltration system, UChicagoTech helped him to develop a  business proposal and present the opportunity to the Innovation Fund.  UChicagoTech also filed an international patent application at the end of 2012  to protect the technology.
“The Innovation Fund award has been extremely helpful by giving  us not only financial support to further develop this technology in a timely  manner but also by connecting us with a highly supportive group of industry  experts and entrepreneurs,” Jaeger says.
The award is helping to optimize the low-pressure ion  rejection/permeation characteristics for the product; develop and test a system  that is environmentally friendly, compatible with drinking water standards, and  scalable for the production of large volumes of water; and design an assembly  process that is compatible with existing commercial filtration systems.
Initially, Jaeger intends to target small, distributed or mobile  water treatment systems. After being proven on a small scale, the technology  could attract additional funding and be developed for larger systems.
“The potential of this technology to establish a new class of  nanofiltration devices is an exciting prospect,” Jaeger says. “Many purification  processes in a wide range of industries depend on nanofiltration and could  benefit greatly from highly specialized and tunable parameters in a low-pressure  technology. UChicagoTech’s help has been indispensible.”
Source: By Greg Borzo, University of Chicago

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