The mission of the Water & Energy Efficiency for the Environment Lab (WE3Lab) is to advance the energy efficiency of desalination through innovation in water treatment technology, optimization of water management practices, and redesign of water policies. We have the following research thrusts:
Re-thinking the Deployment of Water Treatment Technologies:
Maximizing the benefits of water treatment requires deploying water treatment capacity efficiently. Our lab develops generalizable frameworks for evaluating tradeoffs in air and water emissions and leverages these frameworks to optimize the water treatment network design in the energy, industrial, and agricultural sectors. Across these diverse systems, we routinely find 1) evidence of tradeoffs in air, water, and climate emissions associated with more stringent water quality requirements and 2) significant spatial heterogeneity in the magnitude of air emissions damages, underscoring the imperative of assessing emissions risk tradeoffs using high resolution data.
Re-defining the Inputs to the Water Desalination Process:
Step changes in energy efficiency will require that we re-define the inputs to the desalination process by enabling processes that leverage low-temperature waste heat as the driving force for desalination and by developing desalination processes that operate closer to the thermodynamic limit for high salinity and low salinity feed streams. We have advanced fundamental tools to evaluate water desalination processes by 1) significantly improving formulations for optimizing countercurrent membrane separation processes and 2) developing a novel method for accurately characterizing heat transfer in membrane distillation modules.
Re-envisioning the Membrane:
Nanoscale control of the chemistry, morphology, and orientation in thin-films has the potential to significantly improve the technical and economic viability of novel desalination processes. We work on three specific problems related to membrane materials: 1) low flux of membrane distillation membranes, where we have derived fundamental structure function relationships for membrane distillation performance, 2) fouling of membrane surfaces, where we have clarified the critical relationships between surface structure, surface chemistry, and foulant morphology, and 3) low selectivity for small or similarly charged solutes, where we have developed novel materials that selectively remove ions of environmental relevance.