Researchers Design Microwave-Enhanced Membrane Filtration Tech

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Water pollution affects millions of people worldwide and is a leading cause for public health concern. Specifically, unregulated and emerging pollutants — such as endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) — are toxic and refractory, which can be challenging to remove via conventional water treatment processes.

Membrane filtration is an efficient and widely used chemical separation and water purification technology. Yet, membrane technology has some limitations like membrane fouling and inadequate removal of EDCs and PPCPs.

Now, Dr. Wen Zhang’s group at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has designed a novel reactive membrane system with the ability to degrade the emerging pollutants and mitigate membrane fouling.

In their study, Zhang and his Ph.D. student, Wanyi Fu, used microwaves as an irradiation source to induce catalytic reactions on membrane surface and enhance pollutant degradation. In contrast to other irradiation such as UV or ultrasonication, microwave is able to pass through industrial membrane filtration housing and enable membrane surface reactions.

This novel technique has been filed as a US patent and the research has been published in the Journal of Membrane Science recently.

Zhang’s team is also exploring ways to scale up application of microwave-enhanced membrane filtration technology in drinking water treatment, wastewater treatment and landfill leachate treatment. With more studies, Zhang’s lab soon hopes to demonstrate the feasibility of microwave-enhanced membrane filtration outside the lab for point-of-use (POU) water treatment devices for safe drinking water.

“There are challenges remaining in using the conventional treatment technologies for emerging pollutants treatment,” says Zhang. “So we need to design next-generation membrane techniques, which may integrate reactions into physical membrane separation.”

Zhang’s lab is now working on different types of reactive membrane systems: UV-based photocatalytic reactive membrane, electro-chemical membrane and microwave-enhanced membrane filtration, which demonstrate potential for efficient removal of emerging pollutants and low-cost membrane operations.


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