However, the world is not at a loss for water. We have more water than we could ever use. But, 96.5% of it is in the oceans, too contaminated with salt for many anthropogenic uses. Of the 2.5% that is freshwater, nearly 70% of it is locked in glaciers and icecaps, leaving precious little water that is both fresh and available, often not in locations where it is most needed.
Membrane science is alleviating water shortages, weakening the linkage between energy and water, and arresting the environmental damage occurring due to agricultural runoff (e.g., uncontrolled algal blooms), conventional and unconventional oil and gas production, and energy generation based on fossil fuels. A “moonshot for water” has been proposed in the U.S. to reduce the cost of desalination to be comparable to that of conventional drinking water costs. Disruptive, membrane-based technologies will lead the way in bringing about this revolution. Membrane-based seawater desalination is already the least energy intensive way to desalinate seawater, and membranes are increasingly used for wastewater treatment and reuse. Basic and applied science discoveries are paving the way for next generation membranes that will be highly selective, fouling resistant, low energy and highly resilient. Rational control of pore size and pore size distribution in membrane filters is critical to such developments. Discovering and developing the underpinning science to predict ion and water transport across membranes designed to separate ions from water is already providing profound insight regarding molecular strategies to tailor next generation membranes.
This presentation will frame the water/energy nexus challenges and opportunities and provide a glimpse of potential paths forward to supply the world with low energy, abundant access to clean water.