Recent developments in technology have resulted in breakthroughs in wastewater treatment and reclamation for water reuse. This progress includes membrane technology, which has emerged as a significant innovation for treatment and reclamation, as well as a leading process in the upgrade and expansion of wastewater treatment plants. On the water treatment side, University of South Carolina engineers have developed one of the thinnest and most selective membranes ever made, which could potentially be used for water purification applications, especially in hydraulic fracturing. The membrane’s selectivity is based on molecular size; hydrogen and helium can pass through easily but pollutants such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane pass through more slowly.
Membrane filters are widely used for filtering both drinking water and sewage. For drinking water, membrane filters can remove virtually all particles larger than 0.2 um, including giardia and cryptosporidium. Membrane filters are an effective form of tertiary treatment to reuse the water for industry, for limited domestic purposes, or before discharging the water into a river that is used by towns further downstream. They are widely used in industry, particularly for beverages (including bottled water).
The advances made at USC have a range of potential applications beyond just water or wastewater treatment. With widespread concerns about carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the efficient separation of carbon dioxide from other gases is a high research priority. Moreover, hydrogen represents an integral commodity in energy systems involving, for example, fuel cells, so purifying it from gas mixtures is also an active area of interest.