Assistant Professor Tiezheng Tong is principal investigator on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to develop membranes for treating water that don’t require problematic “forever” chemicals. Tong and his group have worked for years to improve membrane distillation, a promising technology for converting high-salinity wastewater to freshwater.
While membrane wetting and scaling are the major constraints that limit the efficiency of membrane distillation, omniphobic and superhydrophobic membranes have been developed to mitigate these issues. However, these membranes typically are made with long-chain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which have become priority pollutants due to increasing concerns about their persistence in the environment, stability, and toxicity.
Working with collaborators at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), Tong will use the $250,000 grant to explore new strategies to modify the membrane surface with the goal of designing a novel bioinspired family of membranes that doesn’t rely on PFAS. He will evaluate the effectiveness of the new membranes using model brine mixtures and produced water from an oil and gas field in Colorado.
Tong plans to integrate findings from this research into undergraduate and graduate courses at CSU and UTK. He also hopes to engage and recruit middle and high school students from underrepresented groups to work on water sustainability issues.