Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Novel Thermal Desalination Membranes for Sustainable Treatment of Hypersaline Industrial Wastewaters
by Boo, Chanhee, Ph.D., Yale University, 2018, 179; 13851845
Abstract (Summary)

An increasing demand exists for the treatment of hypersaline industrial wastewaters such as those from the shale gas industry, seawater desalination plants, and thermoelectric power-generating facilities. Membrane distillation (MD) is an emerging thermal-based desalination process, which can potentially treat hypersaline industrial wastewaters by exploiting low-grade or waste heat. High performance MD membranes are the key to the advancement and further commercialization of this emerging desalination technology. This research aims at (i) developing novel MD membranes with special surface wettability using advanced materials and surface engineering techniques and (ii) gaining fundamental understanding of the scaling and fouling mechanisms of the newly developed MD membranes.

Engineering the wettability of materials and interfaces can effectively be leveraged to membrane fabrication. Omniphobic membranes that resist wetting from both water and oil can extend MD applications for desalination of emerging high-salinity wastewaters containing diverse low surface tension contaminants. Fundamental understanding of interfacial phenomena and relating such knowledge to membrane surface wettability are crucial to improving omniphobic MD membrane design and performance. This work elucidates the factors that determine surface omniphobicity of microporous membranes and evaluates the potential application of these membranes in desalination of low surface tension wastewaters by membrane distillation. Specifically, the effects of surface morphology and surface energy on membrane surface omniphobicity were systematically investigated by modifying a prototype glass fiber substrate with silica nanoparticles and fluoroalkylsilane. A re-entrant structure, defined as a nanoscale architecture with increased air to solid ratio, developed by the spherical silica nanoparticles was found to play a critical role in rendering the membrane surface omniphobic,

Electrospinning is a promising and versatile technique to fabricate omniphobic membranes, because electrospun nanofibers with cylindrical shape feature a re-entrant structure and could be further engineered for additional levels of re-entrant structures. This work presents a facile approach to fabricate a robust omniphobic membrane by exploiting the versatility of electrospinning, which allows the preparation of a nanofiber scaffold with targeted physical and chemical properties. The fabricated electrospun omniphobic MD membranes were evaluated in terms of wetting resistance to various low surface tension liquids and desalination performance with feed solutions of varying surface tensions.

Microporous polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membranes have been widely used for MD applications because of their hydrophobic nature, excellent chemical compatibility, and facile processability. However, application of conventional hydrophobic PVDF membranes in MD is limited due to their susceptibility to wetting and fouling by low surface tension contaminants. This study presents scalable surface engineering of a conventional hydrophobic PVDF microporous substrate to produce an omniphobic membrane. Desalination performance of the fabricated omniphobic membrane was evaluated in direct contact membrane distillation with synthetic wastewaters containing low surface tension contaminants, including surfactants and mineral oil. The performance of the fabricated omniphobic membrane with produced water from the shale gas industry was further examined to highlight its potential application in desalinating complex, high salinity industrial wastewaters.

The performance of MD systems is hampered by fouling and inorganic scaling, particularly when a system treats hypersaline industrial wastewaters with high levels of total dissolved solids and organic matter. This dissertation research investigated fouling and scaling mechanisms of omniphobic membranes, focusing on the impact of surface chemistry. The omniphobic membranes were fouled by hydrophobic, low surface tension contaminants via attractive interactions, but further adsorption into the pores was prevented by a thermodynamic barrier created by a re-entrant structure, which sustains a metastable non-wetting condition. Also, the non-adhesive and slippery surface nature of the omniphobic membrane was shown to delay both homogeneous and heterogeneous nucleation, demonstrating its potential for a high recovery MD system to treat hypersaline industrial wastewaters.

This work presents pioneering advances in the development of novel MD membranes with special wettability for extended MD applications. The fundamental understanding of the interfacial phenomena, advanced materials, and surface engineering techniques as well as fouling and scaling mechanisms will shed light on the design parameters for high membrane performance and efficient process operation. These important insights can inform the realization of emerging membrane-based technologies for sustainable treatment of challenging industrial wastewaters. The implications of the results in this dissertation are potentially far-reaching; we anticipate that they will shape the discussion of next generation desalination technologies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Elimelech, Menachem
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-B 80/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Chemical engineering, Nanotechnology, Environmental engineering
Keywords: Desalination, Hypersaline Wastewater, Industrial Wastewater, Membrane, Membrane Distillation, Thermal Desalination
Publication Number: 13851845
ISBN: 978-0-438-98322-9
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