Professor Pedro J.J. Alvarez from Rice University, gave a lecture on May 27, 2019 titled “Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment: A Vision to Enable Decentralized Water Treatment and Address Growing Challenges of the Water Energy Nexus”.
Through control over material size, morphology and chemical structure, nanotechnology offers novel materials that are nearly “all surface” and that can be more reactive per atom than bulk materials. Such engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) can offer superior catalytic, adsorptive, optical, quantum, electrical and/or antimicrobial properties that enable multi-functional technology platforms for next-generation water treatment. This presentation addressed emerging opportunities for nanotechnology to improve the selectivity and efficiency to remove priority pollutants, decrease electrical energy requirements, and meet a growing need for safer and more affordable decentralized water treatment and reuse. Because water is by far the largest waste stream of the energy industry, Professor Alvarez also discussed technological innovation to enable produced water reuse in remote (off-grid) oil and gas fields, to minimize freshwater withdrawal and disposal challenges. Examples of applicable nano-enabled technologies include fouling-resistant membranes with embedded ENMs that allow for self-cleaning and repair; capacitive deionization with highly conductive and selective electrodes to remove multivalent ions that precipitate or cause scaling; rapid magnetic separation using superparamagnetic nanoparticles; solar-thermal processes enabled by nanophotonics to desalinate with membrane distillation; disinfection and advanced oxidation using nanocatalysts; and nanostructured surfaces that discourage microbial adhesion and protect infrastructure against biofouling and corrosion. Professor Alvarez envisions using these enabling technologies to develop compact modular water treatment systems that are easy to deploy and can treat challenging waters to protect human lives and support sustainable economic development.