Our research group focuses on problems associated with physicochemical processes in engineered and natural environmental systems. Understanding and ultimately controlling the many complex mechanisms that occur at environmental interfaces may resolve many of these problems. As is the case for environmental engineering as a whole our work falls at the junction of many different disciplines, including colloid and interface science, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, microbiology, and materials science. Work is in progress in the following areas: 

   

Energy Development and Produced Water. A number of challenges must be overcome as the United States and other countries pursue and develop unconventional energy resources like shale gas, coal bed methane, and oil sands.  Foremost amongst these challenges is the efficient and environmentally sound management of the vast quantities of water that are coupled with resource exploration and extraction.  Our research is primarily concerned with developing new techniques for treating the water that is co-generated or produced during the extraction of oil and natural gas resources.  

       
   

Produced waters and those generated from hydraulic fracturing activities (i.e., frac water) typically contain high levels of organic (oils, grease, solvents) and inorganic (salts, metals) contaminants, which present a significant environmental concern.  The costs associated with managing and treating produced waters can in many cases be prohibitive to energy development ventures.  If the produced water can be treated to a sufficient standard then it may reused for some beneficial purpose (e.g., irrigation, process make up water).  This is especially important as some of the most intense energy exploration efforts are taking place in water poor areas like Wyoming, where water is an extremely valuable commodity.

Our research therefore focuses on developing new treatment technologies that are capable of overcoming the challenges associated with the most widely applied treatment technology for produced water, that is membrane processes (reverse osmosis).  Membrane processes are limited in their ability to treat produced waters that are characterized by high salt content as a result of membrane fouling and the high feed pressures that are required to overcome the osmotic back-pressures, which characterize highly saline solutions (TDS > 50,000 mg/L).  We are seeking to overcome these obstacles by developing new more fouling resistant membrane materials that are capable of operating at significantly lower feed pressures relative to existing membranes. Also, we are developing non-membrane processes that are capable of removing the dissolved salts from produced water and recovering potentially valuable constituents (gold, silver, etc).  These nanotechnology-based solutions may one day turn what would otherwise be a waste product into a valuable commodity!

Nanotechnology and the Environment. Nanotechnology represents one of the fastest growing commercial markets, with industrial production of engineered nanomaterials expected to reach into the millions of tons in the near future. The continued development of these new materials and technologies offers the possibility to solve many of the world’s pressing environmental concerns as well as being a new source of pollution, which may have any number of unintended consequences.

Our research focuses on understanding the behavior of both ambient and engineered nanomaterials - metal oxides, fullerenes, and biomaterials – in environmental systems. Current work is focused on determining how these nanomaterials may be removed through conventional and advanced treatment processes as well as understanding the fundamental mechanisms that govern their fate and transport in aquatic systems.
Membrane Processes. The successful application of all membrane processes requires that the following issues be resolved: membrane fouling, relatively high-energy consumption, concentrate/reject disposal, and integration into existing distribution systems. Our research specifically focuses on these issues as they relate to desalination and water reuse systems. Focus areas include resolving the critical mechanisms and parameters that determine the type and extent of fouling that occurs in a given system and the development of new concentrate management strategies.
 
 

Other focus areas include: i) the development of novel fouling resistant membrane surfaces, ii) integration of sustainable operating protocols to mitigate membrane fouling, and iii) the development of new fouling indices and predictive fouling models.

Environmental Nanotechnology
: News and Notes

“Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, collectively referred to as nanotechnology, is the ability to work at the molecular level, atom by atom, to create large structures with fundamentally new molecular organization. Nanotechnology is a crosscutting area involving disciplines such as chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering, with truly revolutionary transformation potential for an entire host of products and processes, including those that enhance environmental quality and sustainability through pollution prevention, treatment, and remediation.” 2002 EPA Nanotechnology and the Environment

“One of the most important environmental applications of nanotechnology is the use of nanoparticles to create a new generation of sensors with enhanced monitoring capabilities for pathogens and pollutants, for treating (remediation) contaminated water, soil or air, and for enabling green technologies to eliminate or decrease harmful emissions and waste from industrial processes, including the development of clean energy sources such as solar energy and fuel cells.” - Canadian Stewardship Practices for Environmental Nanotechnology, March 2005

“Nanotechnology will improve agricultural yields for an increased population, provide more economical water filtration and desalination, and enable renewable energy sources such as highly efficient solar energy conversion; it will reduce the need for scarce material resources and diminish pollution for a cleaner environment.”2001 Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, NSF

“The nanotechnology market will approach $1 trillion dollars by 2015” -  2001 Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, NSF

 

Jonathan A. Brant, Ph.D. | University of Wyoming | Phone: (307) 766-5446 | Fax: (307) 766-2221
Email: jbrant1@uwyo.edu | School Web: http://www.uwyo.edu/ceas/faculty/jbrant1/