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Hayward, CA, United States

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 149.88K | Year: 2013

This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project is focused on the development of carbon nanotube ultrafiltration (CNT-UF) membranes with high flux and uniform pore size. Carbon nanotubes are known to enhance flux in membranes for water and gas applications. Initial studies have shown that we can produce membranes with higher flux and better selectivity than commercial UF membranes. It is anticipated that the CNT-UF membranes developed in this project will have significantly higher flux than current commercial membranes, achieve good natural organic matter rejection, and have excellent chemical resistance. This project enables fabrication and optimization of high performance CNT-UF membranes.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that carbon nanotube ultrafiltration membranes with higher flux and improved rejection will result in energy and cost savings in a broad set of applications. Applications include but are not limited to treatment of surface water for potable water production, pretreatment for seawater desalination using reverse osmosis, municipal and industrial wastewater reclamation and a variety of other industrial processes. More efficient desalination, water reclamation, and reuse will reduce water scarcity. Improved ultrafiltration technology will reduce strain on water resources and aid in securing a supply of fresh drinking water worldwide.

Agency: National Science Foundation | Branch: | Program: SBIR | Phase: Phase II | Award Amount: 499.71K | Year: 2011

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project will take advantage of the unique properties of carbon-nanotube (CNT) pores to develop membranes that are specifically tailored for forward osmosis (FO) applications. FO processes have a number of advantages over evaporation and pressure-driven membrane processes: low energy cost, low mechanical stresses, and high product concentration. The main problem impeding the widespread use of FO remains the lack of robust optimized FO membranes. CNT membranes are ideal for FO applications as they offer improvements in all relevant membrane characteristics: (1) improved structural integrity; (2) high permeability; (3) robust chemical stability; and (4) low fouling propensity. Most importantly, CNT membranes can be fabricated with sufficient structural support in the active layer to operate with only minimal external reinforcement, which minimizes concentration polarization losses. This project builds on the fabrication and functionalization approaches developed in Phase I, and applies them on a larger scale to achieve the objective of developing membranes with fast flow and high selectivity at reasonable production costs. Performance of the membranes will be benchmarked using laboratory tests that simulate real-world applications. This project will deliver an innovative FO membrane platform that exhibits superior performance and stability in FO applications. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will be to enable a variety of green technologies such as renewable power generation, wastewater reuse, and energy-efficient desalination. Although FO-based processes are extremely energy efficient, their commercial use has been hampered by the lack of high performance FO membranes. This project should produce two main outcomes. First, it would deliver a solid technical foundation for developing a novel FO membrane platform that would provide a superior commercial alternative to existing FO membrane architectures. Second, the performance advantages of the CNT membranes would open up several applications for commercial development.

Agency: National Science Foundation | Branch: | Program: SBIR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 149.85K | Year: 2009

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will take advantage of the unique properties of nanomaterials to develop membranes with improved performance tailored for osmosis applications. Osmosis-based industrial processes have a number of advantages over evaporation and pressure-driven membrane processes, including low energy use, low operating temperatures and pressures, and high product concentrations. The project aims to synthesize a new membrane using a composite structure consisting of carbon nanotubes embedded in a polymer matrix. The main factor limiting the industrial use of osmosis-based technologies is a lack of optimized membranes. The unique nanofluidic properties of the proposed nanomaterials-based membrane would make it ideal for osmosis-based applications, offering improvements in all relevant aspects of membrane performance: 1) improved structural integrity, 2) high permeability; 3) chemical stability, and 4) low propensity to foul. The broader societal/commercial impact of this project will be to enable numerous applications in the areas of wastewater treatment, industrial separations, industrial and emergency desalination, and energy generation. The analysis using the planned desalination plant at the city of Santa Cruz as an example demonstrates that the availability of optimized membranes creates real opportunities for making a strong impact on the commercial use of osmosis-based technologies. In the future the nanomaterials-based membranes developed over the course of this project could be deployed on a global scale for osmosis-based applications, making a measurable impact on this $2.6 billion annual market. Applications of these technologies to water purification and energy generation could provide not only commercial but high societal impact, improving the living conditions in the US and worldwide.

Agency: National Science Foundation | Branch: | Program: STTR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 149.94K | Year: 2009

This Small Business Technology Transfer Phase I project addresses one of the key barriers for commercial development of the next generation membrane technologies that exploit extremely fast transport through the carbon nanotube pores. These pores enable nearly frictionless flow that could drastically lower membrane resistance and produce in significant energy savings for a wide range of membrane-based separation processes. The first carbon nanotube membranes were made from aligned CVD-grown nanotube arrays that are costly and hard to scale up. The objective of this Phase I project is to demonstrate assembly of bulk single wall carbon nanotube-polymer composites at high loadings and establish understanding of the thermodynamics and kinetics of these processes. Another objective is to develop a strategy for scalability of this process as well as identify the main parameters that control the quality of the resulting aligned nanocomposites. Membrane separation technologies are one of the cornerstones of modern economy, and this $12B/year market has been growing at an annual rate exceeding 9%. Membranes are also critically important for global societal and humanitarian problems, such as availability of clean water (one of 6 people in the world lacks access to clean water and water shortage is a growing problem in the Western US). In particular, small-pore membranes enable reverse-osmosis processes that are the most energy-efficient route for seawater desalination that could tap into plentiful water resources available in the ocean. Development of a scalable process for aligning small-pore carbon nanotubes into a membrane would produce membranes with permeability of up to 100 times higher than current RO membranes, and would represent a paradigm shift for the RO membrane market. Commercialization of this process could potentially make RO desalinated water costs in line with the current municipal water costs, and thus unlock an almost inexhaustible water source for the US and global population. This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).

Agency: Department of Energy | Branch: | Program: SBIR | Phase: Phase II | Award Amount: 999.29K | Year: 2014

This proposal will enable the development of a system that will synergistically capture carbon and treat wastewater at power plants. The system will have higher water recovery and treat more problematic water using less energy compared to state of the art technologies.

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