Molecular Engineering of Water Resources

Water is the most fundamental molecule for sustaining all forms of life. The study of the science and engineering of water can lead to both better understanding and better quality of life itself. Though water is one of the world’s most critical resources, it is in dramatically short supply in many regions—developed and developing regions alike. Furthermore, in many regions, particularly highly populated ones, water resources are being damaged or depleted by human activity. Pesticides, plasticizers, detergents, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals are increasingly finding their way into our water supplies. Advanced purification methods are needed not only to generate fresh water supply but also to assure safety and quality of the supply.

IME is teaming up with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to tackle many of these problems with new membrane technologies, new catalytic processes for eliminating organic chemicals, anti-fouling surfaces to enhance the lifetime of water treatment equipment, efficient water use in agriculture, and distributed, local purification methods—a smart grid for water. The partnership is crucial for both sides. For Israel, water is an existential matter. IME brings a multitude of molecular engineering approaches to enhance the purification and utilization of water. Water and energy are intertwined: Producing energy uses water, and providing fresh water uses energy. This water-energy nexus brings the IME-Argonne connection to the fore again.

Water is a promising material for energy capture and storage, for example, by photocatalytic “water-splitting” to form hydrogen. More broadly, in considerations of sustainability, water and its interfaces with hydrocarbons and air play important roles in environmental remediation and some aspects of atmospheric chemistry. IME has multiple avenues to address the stewardship of the Earth’s most essential molecule.

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