Grant will support development of advanced membranes for desalination and recovery of nutrients and rare metals from water

The National Science Foundation has awarded Geoff Geise, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia, with a prestigious CAREER research grant. The five-year, $548,898 grant is titled Engineering Molecular Interactions to Control Ion Transport in Hydrated Polymers for Membrane Separations, and it is supported by the Process Separations program in the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems in the Directorate for Engineering at the National Science Foundation.

The grant will support research and engineering education that "will design and synthesize new molecularly-tailored polymer membranes that create unique electrochemical environments to selectively discriminate ions of similar charge, size, and other properties," according to the project abstract. "Within the next decade, the removal of salt from salty and contaminated water may be needed to alleviate water shortages in the USA. Also, removal of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff may be implemented to prevent eutrophication and remediate a 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, novel routes may be developed to recover rare metals that are in short supply in the USA, and subject to export controls, yet are required components of magnets and sensors for military applications and electronics. These three technological challenges--desalination, nutrient recovery, and rare metal recovery--all involve the removal of charged molecules (ions) from water. To separate these ions from water requires selective materials, such as membranes, that allow one type of molecule to pass, while prohibiting others."

Research supported by the grant will engineer polymer membranes that discriminate between similarly charged ions to address these challenges. The grant will integrate research and engineering education in a variety of ways, such as by training graduate and undergraduate students, by providing summer research internships for high school students, and by incorporating research outcomes into undergraduate chemical engineering courses. "The integrated research and education plan will lead to robust membranes to address global water and energy resources that lie at the heart of food-energy-water nexus challenges."   

Geise's research aims to address pressing challenges regarding the availability and quality of global water and energy resources. He studies the fundamentals of chemically and electrochemically driven small molecule transport through polymeric materials in order to engineer membranes that will address global water shortages and needs for clean energy.