Our team was awarded recently  for NSF I-Corp grant: Multifunctional Ceramic Reactive Electrochemical Membrane Filtration, Total: $50,000, Award Number: 1663298. Duration:  11/01/2016-04/30/2017  


PI background and role: 

Wen Zhang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at NJIT. Wen is a licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.) registered in the States of New Jersey and Delaware. His research aims to integrate nanotechnology into environmental engineering and develop innovative solutions for environmental sustainability and challenges in water-energy nexus. He will serve as the PI for this I Corp team and support the team to perform business model development and customer discovery to help the team to carry out technological development and commercialization.


Entrepreneurial Lead background and role:

Likun Hua,  environmental engineering majored, is starting his second year of PhD research in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology. In this project, Likun will act as the entrepreneurial lead with a leading role of building business models, customer discovery, product development, testing and on-site interview or demonstration. In his previous effort, he was supported by the NSF I-corp site grant to perform tutorial learning on business planning, technology commercialization, and customer interview. Moreover, he has been working as research assistant on this REM project for more than 2 years.  


Industry Mentor (IM) background and role:

Paul Schorr is a licensed Professional Engineer, retired from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.   He has over 45  years of experience in the field of water resources with consulting engineering firms of Clinton Bogert Associates and Gerald E. Speitel Associates;  with  the federal Environmental Protection Agency; and with the New Jersey  Department of Environmental Protection . He was the Project Manager on the New Jersey Special Water Treatment Plan, that provided the framework for the State to approve advanced physical chemical and biological processes to achieve stringent drinking and surface water standards.  Equipment  and processes included ozonation, denitrification, granular activated carbon, packed aeration towers .    As a member of the American Chemical Society he co-hosts symposium on “Advances in Water Monitoring” that focus on new equipment and techniques to measure water quality parameters.  His role in this project will include mentorship on evaluating water and wastewater equipment to meet Federal standards,  on construction costs,  on public financing and on market demand. 


A brief summary of the technology

Membrane filtration is one of the most efficient processes for biomass separations and water purification. However, traditional membrane separations suffer from membrane fouling due to either the formation of a cake layer of algal cells, or more commonly due to organic matter adsorption onto the membrane surface. We designed a novel technique to mitigate membrane surface fouling through electrochemical oxidation powered by anodic polarization under a DC current. This invention demonstrated an innovative and multifunctional reactive electrochemical membrane (REM), to act as a model filtration membrane that exhibit great antifouling characteristics and strong surface reactivity. The REM surface acts as both filter and electrode that separate biomass and soluble organic compounds from water and enable water purification in addition to separating biomass. Key technical objectives of this project include: (1) Evaluation of the performance of REMs for algal separation and fouling mitigation; (2) Evaluation of the removal of organics and other potential algal growth inhibitors by REMs for medium water and nutrient reuse; (3) Investigation of algal pretreatment by anodic oxidation of REM and impacts on lipid extraction during dynamic membrane filtration.

This technology represents a potentially game-changing filtration technology that is designed to improve bioseparation efficiency, lower fouling potential (increased durability and stability), higher fluxes of water permeate, and pre-oxidation of organic substituents and biomass if desirable for downstream processing. We will leverage these unique advantages to secure potential off-take agreements with membrane, biofuel, and water/wastewater industries. The substantial commercial impacts are expected on end users or markets in, but not limited to, membrane industries, manufacturers and users for water/wastewater treatment industries and algae biofuel industries, renewable energy, bioenergy industries. REM technologies holds promise to transform current physical filtration processes from a chemically inert system to chemically reactive systems that proactively filtrate water with well defined reactions or reactivity on filter surfaces. In the long term, reactive ceramic membranes, due to their flexible surface modifications and a longer lifetime compared to widely used polymer membranes, will reduce filtration operational cost and increase process sustainability. 

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