New Material Holds Great Promise for Cleaning Up Wastewater from the Oil & Gas Industry

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A groundbreaking membrane material developed by Professor Richard Kaner and his colleagues has received an international award for innovation at one of the water industry’s largest global conferences. 

The new polymeric-ceramic membrane, developed by Ric Kaner (Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry), Eric Hoek (Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering), and their researchers, exhibit performance similar to traditional ceramic-based membranes used by oil and gas producers, but at much lower costs.

Ric Kaner (Center Front) with his group

The new material’s advantages also include resistance to fouling from hydrocarbons, particles and bacteria, as well as tolerance of extreme pH conditions and high temperatures, which makes them easier to clean than traditional polymers.  This suite of advantages earned polymeric-ceramic membranes a Distinction Award for Technology Innovation of the Year at the Global Water Awards, held in Seville, Spain, in late April. 

The new UCLA polyeric membrane has a glass-like surface
that repls oil, bacteria, and particles

“This innovation is very exciting for me,” Hoek said. “Ric and I have been working on it for over eight years and we have evaluated many applications, but it appears the first commercial use of polymeric-ceramic membranes will be for environmental protection.  That is very satisfying to me.” 

Added Kaner: “This is a very exciting new application area for these novel polymers, which were originally developed for applications in aerospace and electronics industries.”

Electron microscope image of polymeric-ceramic fibers

Over the past eight-plus years, Kaner and Hoek overcame a number of challenges to be able to create such robust, tunable membranes. One key to their success was exploring methods of modifying the polymer structure and chemistry, and that is the basis for much of the intellectual property they have developed.

Kaner said, “UCLA has a great tradition of collaborations and I’m always looking for ways to put our new materials to use. Working with Eric on membrane technology has been very rewarding.”

Both Kaner and Hoek are members of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).

The original story was produced by Matthew Chin for the UCLA Engineering News room and is available here.