DOE funds field test of Rice’s solar desalination technology

David Ruth
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david@rice.edu

Jade Boyd
713-348-6778
jadeboyd@rice.edu

DOE funds field test of Rice’s solar desalination technology

NEWT Center’s light-harvesting membranes heat, desalinate water in one step  

HOUSTON — (June 25, 2018) — The Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $1.7 million to a Rice University-led team for further development and field testing of an innovative desalination technology that uses nanoparticles and sunlight to treat water.

A scaled up test bed of NEWT's direct solar desalination technology

A scaled-up NESMD test bed during a 2017 demonstration at NEWT, an NSF-funded engineering research center at Rice University. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Rice’s “nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation” technology, or NESMD, is one of 14 projects funded June 19 through the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office‘s Solar Desalination program.

NESMD combines tried-and-true water treatment methods with cutting-edge nanotechnology. By adding low-cost, commercially available nanoparticles to a porous membrane, the researchers essentially turn the membrane itself into a one-sided heating element that drives membrane distillation. The technology is in development at the Rice-based Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT), a multi-institutional engineering research center funded by the National Science Foundation.

“We’re creating off-grid systems to provide water anywhere it’s needed,” said NESMD inventor and NEWT Co-director Qilin Li, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice.

Qilin Li

Water treatment expert Qilin Li is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University and co-director of the Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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NESMD builds upon membrane distillation by incorporating light-capturing nanoparticles directly into the membrane. Li developed it with NEWT colleagues, including Rice Professor Naomi Halas, NEWT’s lead researcher for photonics, whose lab pioneered the creation of light-harvesting nanoparticles that can convert sunlight into heat, and Yale University Professor Menachem “Meny” Elimelech, NEWT’s lead researcher for membrane processes.

In 2017, Li, Halas, Elimelech and colleagues published results showing that laboratory-scale NESMD prototypes could desalinate water at a rate of up to 6 liters per hour per square meter of light-harvesting membrane. Li said many parts of the NESMD technology can be optimized to improve upon those results as the system is scaled up for operational field tests.

Li is the principal investigator on the DOE grant. Co-principal investigators include Elimelech, Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor Meagan Mauter, and Joon Min, vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based Montrose Environmental Group.

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VIDEO is available at:

//youtu.be/z36jMKk-AdQ

High-resolution IMAGES are available for download at:

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CAPTION: A scaled-up NESMD test bed during a 2017 demonstration at NEWT, an NSF-funded engineering research center at Rice University. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

//www.ilclawfirm.com/files/2017/06/170623_NEWT-qilin-lg-2gvtpup.jpg
CAPTION: Water treatment expert Qilin Li is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University and co-director of the Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Other NEWT stories from Rice:

Science teachers get hands-on research experience at Rice, thanks to NEWT — June 18, 2018
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Freshwater from salt water using only solar energy — June 19, 2017
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NEWT welcomes congressional reps, NSF director — April 21, 2017
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Rice, ASU, Yale, UTEP win NSF engineering research center — Aug. 10, 2015
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This release can be found online at news.rice.edu.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,970 undergraduates and 2,934 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for quality of life and for lots of race/class interaction and No. 2 for happiest students by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to //tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.