During the past decade, there has been an increased effort to improve technology related to the production of fresh water. The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Resources Institute (WRI) have estimated that currently over a billion people do not have access to clean water and more than 2.3 billion (41% of earth population) people live in water suppressed areas. To make matters worse, these numbers are expected to soar to about 3.5 billion by the year 2025. In order to increase and maintain the clean water supply beyond what is currently available, desalination (the process of eliminating both salts and suspended solids from brackish water and seawater) has emerged as a leading alternative to resolve this crisis.
Desalination offers an unlimited, steady supply of high quality water without impairing natural fresh water ecosystems. Evaporation and reverse osmosis (RO), which involves pushing water through a semipermeable membrane that blocks dissolved salts, are two of the most common desalination processes. Evaporation, however, consumes a vast amount of energy making RO the most efficient and low-cost technology for desalination. During the past two years, we have realized and developed an efficient and advantageous system based on ‘cooperative capture’ technology to produce porous hydrophilic polymeric materials that are more cost effective, water compatible, and highly tunable. In the next two years, we aim to continue investigating the current polymer membrane candidates using this novel ‘cooperative capture’ technology while, in the meantime, developing new porous membrane materials for desalination, which exhibit greater durability and antifouling properties than those currently available on the market. While the materials employed in this effort will be derived from more expensive commercially available precursors, the overall costs of this technology will be attenuated by the longer lifetimes of the products. We aim to develop anti-fouling barriers for commercial polyamide (PA) membranes based on novel supramolecular and hybrid covalent/mechanically interlocked architectures. We will explore a diverse range of structures with the intention that they may be deposited reversibly on a membrane surface, providing a replaceable protective barrier, thus increasing membrane lifetime and lowering long-term costs.