In Search of the (Membrane) Holy Grail: a 20+ Year Journey

February 13, 2018

In the past few decades, the successful application of membranes to remove contaminants from water is arguably the biggest advance in water treatment since chlorination was introduced for disinfection more than 100 years ago. However, even with such a dramatic impact, the technology’s potential is far from realized. This is largely due to the limitations imposed by membrane fouling; i.e., the plugging of membrane pores by contaminants that the membrane has captured. Researchers worldwide have grappled with the challenge of reducing fouling and have made great strides in the process, but opportunities for major advances remain.

During the past 20 years, Professor Emeritus Mark Benjamin’s research group has developed and demonstrated a novel process for fouling mitigation built around a new type of particle they generated and a new approach for contacting the particles with water. The work has been nurtured by support from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and CoMotion (the UW’s office of technology transfer), facilitating its growth from bench-scale testing of a single beaker of water to pilot systems that can treat more than 10,000 gallons per day. At virtually every step, the researchers have encountered unexpected and challenging issues, many of which they have overcome, but some of which they continue to struggle with. This talk presents an overview of the successes, frustrations and excitement they still feel about the potential of the new process.

Mark Benjamin, professor emeritus, Civil & Environmental Engineering, UW, president, MicroHAOPs