Manish Kumar and Thomas Wood

Living Reverse Osmosis Membranes (LROMs) for Water Reuse and Desalination.

As the demands for fresh water sources increase worldwide, lower-quality water sources including brackish water, seawater, and even recycled wastewater are being developed. Both the currently preferred method of treating these waters, pressure driven reverse osmosis, and the emerging technology of osmotic gradient driven forward osmosis, rely on synthetic membranes to separate water from dissolved contaminants by a simple sieving mechanism or by solution-diffusion based mechanisms. These membranes have polyamide or cellulose acetate based separation layers that are highly susceptible to biofouling by microbial biofilms. Biofouling leads to performance deterioration, high power consumption, and to the use of chlorine-based disinfectants to keep the membranes clean, which may lead to formation of potential carcinogens such as nitroso-dimethyl amine which are not retained by these membranes. We are turning the persistent and unresolved problem of water treatment membrane biofouling on its head by using a beneficial biofilm to prevent external microbial deposition and fouling; we call these living RO membranes (LROMs).

We expect this approach to provide both excellent opportunities for fundamental studies on competitive biofilm formation (i.e., on biofilm consortia) and the effect of pressure on biofilms, and to be commercially viable. The work is at the intersection of three core strengths of Penn State: life, materials, and environmental sciences. One student will work on growing biofilms in the Wood lab and the other student will test these biofilms in the Kumar lab on a membrane filtration system, evaluate its progress and effectiveness is avoiding biofouling by challenge organisms.

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Contact Information

Manish Kumar, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
REU Program Coordinator

Esther Gomez, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
REU Program Coordinator



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