Our vision is to discover and understand fundamental science to design new membrane materials, develop tools and knowledge to predict new materials’ interactions with targeted solutes from recalcitrant water sources, and provide fit for purpose water, recover valuable solutes with less energy. We propose 3 Gap Attack Platforms (GAPs) to achieve this goal: (1) Emergent Properties of Fluids and Interfaces: Molecular design of surfaces to control and tune water properties at interfaces, (2) Designing Specific Interactions, and (3) Mesoscale Structures to Tailor Fluid Flow. These GAPs will work with an overarching Integrating Framework on (4) Informing Materials Design for Energy/Water Efficiency.
To overcome current membrane deficiencies, M-WET will deploy three GAPs focusing on interaction of water and ions with surfaces/interfaces (GAP 1), design of specific chemistries to entrain or destroy target solutes (GAP 2), and creation of mesoscale and hierarchical structures to tune multi-component fluid separation (GAP 3). Each GAP combines novel materials synthesis, development of new characterization techniques aimed at understanding the interaction of aqueous fluids with materials, and development of new theory and simulation tools. A cross-cutting Integrating Framework will bridge between materials design advances and implementation in real separation processes. In particular, the IF ensures that theory and simulations developed at each length scale can be combined into a single multi-scale, multi physics model. In addition, the IF ensures that materials advances translate to benefits realizable at the system-level scale. The transition from fundamental science to practical application would ultimately require consideration of life-cycle analyses of each membrane, the relative affinity of surfaces and membranes in very complex field waters, chemical and thermal robustness of membranes for their intended application (e.g., chlorine resistance), fouling, etc. This level of practicality is beyond the scope of this fundamental research proposal. However, approaches for evaluating materials and integration of fundamental parameters that provide the bridge to practical systems and feedback to fundamental researchers can be achieved.