Access to clean water is among the greatest engineering challenges of the 21st century. Efficient use of existing freshwater resources is a primary strategy to address this challenge. However, current societal needs cannot be met without additional water from sources like brackish water and wastewater. Successful reclamation and reuse of these water sources depends on the development of technologies to ensure these waters are fit for use. This project addresses this need using natural enzymes to degrade toxic contaminants present in water. These highly-efficient biological catalysts will be formulated into biocatalytic membranes using recent advances in the fields of polymer chemistry and additive manufacturing. Biocatalytic inks that contain enzymes and other tailor-made functional components will be deposited onto nanoporous membrane supports in a modular fashion. The modular design can be customized for specific needs by changing the target enzymes and/or polymer mediators. Successful development of this technology will help address the critical challenges of the Nation to ensure the supply of safe, clean, and sustainable water resources. Broader impacts for society will result from this project by training the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers to address the challenge of supplying water to the Nation.
Although efficient use of existing freshwater resources is a primary strategy to supply the Nation's water in the face of increasing demand, current societal needs cannot be met without additional water from sources like brackish water and wastewater. Successful reclamation and reuse of these water sources depends on the development of technologies to ensure these waters are fit for use. Enzyme biocatalysis is a promising platform to address this need. Such platforms require small molecular weight redox-active mediators to facilitate the enzymatic degradation of recalcitrant micropollutants. Although these small molecules provide clear benefits, they are costly and can leach from processes necessitating frequent replenishment. Therefore, it is critical to eliminate mediator washout to make this water treatment technology feasible. The overall goal of this project is to generate the scientific knowledge that enables the design and fabrication of high-performance biocatalytic membranes. This will be done by identifying control factors in the design of radical polymer-based macromolecular mediators and elucidating the processing-structure-property relationships that govern their co-deposition with enzymes on nanoporous supports. The specific research tasks to achieve this goal are to: 1) identify macromolecular mediator designs that promote the efficient degradation of micropollutants while preventing mediator washout; 2) elucidate the processing-structure-property relationships for biocatalytic membranes to correlate membrane support architecture with the biocatalytic and transport properties; and 3) evaluate biocatalytic membrane performance over the course of multiple recover and reuse cycles to inform membrane design for field-relevant applications. Successful completion of this research will address gaps in our knowledge on biocatalytic membrane design and manufacture. This knowledge will have broad impact in the fields of additive manufacturing as well as water treatment. The Nation will further benefit by the training of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers with the expertise necessary to advance the water technology landscape of the United States.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.