From Conception to Application

Basic research examines our physical world to gain a deeper grasp of what makes it tick. Applied research looks at a real-world problem and asks, “How can we translate basic research into better solutions?”

One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is the adequacy and safety of our water supply. Ours is a thirsty society – aside from basic issues of virtually every living organism needing it to survive, many essential industries like agriculture and energy consume vast quantities of water. On top of sheer demand, many commercial activities produce huge volumes of wastewater, and current treatment and disposal practices are expensive and inefficient. Effective treatment technologies that allow contaminated water to be cleaned and reused would represent a milestone in sustainable energy development.

Applying the Concept to the Problem

One solution: an Integrated, Self-Powered Mobile Wastewater Treatment and  Desalination System.

Self-powered because we will capture solar and biological energy to power the system. Mobile because we can take the treatment system to the source, reducing costs and risks while allowing locally supplied water to continue to serve as a resource in its original geography. But the real breakthrough lies in how we will reclaim the produced water for reuse or beneficial disposition.

Mobile treatment exploits the kinetic advantages of working with super-small materials – nanomaterials. Here, nanotechnology and biotechnology converge to enable a complete, high-capacity treatment system that fits into a single, van-sized vehicle. Building upon basic research in carbon nanotubes and biotechnology, researchers have developed a porous blend of polymers and nanoparticles that draws in dissolved salts to produce deionized water. We can combine these nano-structured electrode materials (think of them as “sponges”) – along with nanocatalysts, magnetic nanoparticles, and nanomesh materials – to solve different kinds of treatment challenges and address specific contaminants.

Changing the Game

Industrial byproducts once viewed as “waste” can become a critical resource. Effective wastewater treatment and remediation can transform “waste” water from oil and gas production into a sustainable freshwater source for industry, agriculture, and potable consumption.

Innovators at Rice, working at the intersection of distinct but related disciplines, transform basic research discoveries into high-impact technologies that serve growing demand for efficiency and sustainability in energy production.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Energy production requires enormous volumes of fresh water. Treatments that allow reuse of water resources translate to lower costs and reduced environmental impact, both in the field and at the refinery.

Taking the Dirty Out of Drilling

Drilling operations produce huge volumes of water that must be desalinated for reuse or safe return into the environment. The current standard process – reverse osmosis – leaves a massive footprint of extensive infrastructure, high costs, and severe environmental impact.

Mobility Matters

Mobile treatment solves two significant challenges – the transport costs and environmental risks of moving huge volumes of produced water over long distances – and provides production sites a sustainable source for water-intensive operations.

Sponge It Up

High-charge density nano-sponges remove charged contaminants from produced or flowback water via  capacitive deionization. Sponges can be customized to handle different kinds of treatment scenarios and specific contaminant types.