Engineering professor awarded over $300k NSF grant for advanced water treatment

Reza Foudazi, a chemical and materials engineering assistant professor at New Mexico State University, has received a three-year, nearly $315,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for his project, “Stimuli-responsive membranes from mesophase templating.” (NMSU photo by Vladimir Avina)

With limited water resources posing a challenge for citizens around the globe, Reza Foudazi, a chemical and materials engineering assistant professor at New Mexico State University, is working on a project involving new methods for advanced water treatment. He has received a three-year, nearly $315,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for his project, “Stimuli-responsive membranes from mesophase templating.”

Through the development of new membrane technologies, Foudazi’s project will evaluate how to provide access to low-cost, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable methods for water treatment processes. 

“In drought areas we don’t have lots of energy resources, so need to address both water and energy issues at the same time,” he said. 

Many types of membranes are routinely used in water treatment including microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. 

“The overall goal of this project is to develop ultrafiltration membranes through cost-effective green chemistry, while simultaneously increasing their permeability, to reduce the cost and energy of water treatment,” Foudazi said. 

“The key feature in this project is to have the membrane stimuli responsive. We design the membranes in a way that their pore size can be changed by the temperature or the pH of the water.”

A possible obstacle for Foudazi and his two graduate students is controlling the pore size of the membranes. Their work will include designing the optimal pore sizes that will lead to control rejection and high permeability. 

Dr. Foudazi holds a petri dish with membrane samples showing signs of fouling and scaling. During the desalination process, the membrane absorbs salts and other impurities in water.

“One of the limitations is how far we can go in different chemistries within the polymers to make membranes with all sorts of possible functionalities and properties,” he said. “Current membrane technology is limited to certain polymer chemistries. In our templating method, we are trying to pass that limit and make different types of polymers that can be used as membranes.” 

In addition to confronting water scarcity issues, Foudazi said he believes this project can be achieved with green chemistry. Currently, manufacturers use 80 percent organic solvents to make membranes and the organic solvents then have to be recycled. In the templating method, which Foudazi uses, organic solvents are not needed to make membranes. He also said the green chemistry is possible in a cost-effective method. 

For more information on chemical and materials engineering at NMSU visit https://chme.nmsu.edu

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