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Novel tailored ceramic membranes for water treatment applications

Final Report Summary - CERAMEM (Novel tailored ceramic membranes for water treatment applications)

The CERAMEM project was granted to develop hybrid membranes with increased hydrophilicity for water desalination. These membranes can withstand higher temperatures, making desalination at high temperatures more economically affordable. The issue is still under investigation although we can already say that it is possible to retain salts at elevated temperatures with ceramic membranes. The project, however, evolved into new directions beyond its original scope. One of the new research directions is advanced wastewater treatment with catalytic ceramic membranes that already on the stage of optimisation show high levels of degradation of selected micropollutants such as Bisphenol A. It turns out that currently available on the market membranes are suitable for gas separation but not for water treatment. We therefore decided to develop novel ceramic ultrafiltration (UF) membranes made of alpha alumina. Using raw alpha alumina powders made of different materials we receive highly porous (55 - 65 % He porosity) and at the same time hydrophilic alpha alumina membranes. The typical fluxes through the membranes are comparable with polymeric membranes that are the current state of the art in the water treatment field. More than 99 % protein retention has been repeatedly measured.

The membranes can also serve as a base for complex treatment system comprises of chemical and physical removal steps. The physical retention is naturally delivered by the membrane itself and the chemical retention can be based on Fe3O4 nanocatalyst particles impregnated on membrane support. The catalytic membrane combines the retention of big particles with decomposition of micropollutants and might deliver a one-stage solution for wastewater treatment. This long-term visionary project will help attaining a sustainable environmentally friendly irrigation solution for arid areas in Israel and other countries in the Middle East.

In addition we develop a new way of performing catalytic reaction inside the membrane cells. One of typical problems associated with catalytic reactions is a loss of nanoparticle catalysts. Until now the traditional way of keeping the catalyst was to coat magnetic particles with catalysts and activate magnetic field at the end of reaction to collect the catalysts. Ceramic membranes deliver a new way of performing the reaction in close vessels that can be heated and pressurised. The applied pressure is below the point when the reagents are moving through the membrane. Extension of the pressure at the end of reaction transfers the products through the membrane and concentrates the catalysts on the feed side. As a result and depending on the applied pressure we can control the exact reaction time and repeat it using the same nanocatalysts. Treatment of secondary effluents of municipal wastewater with catalytic UF membrane combines physical retention with chemical degradation of organic micropollutants and can therefore be compared to UF / reverse osmosis (RO) treatment path.

Regarding key complementary training modules (so-called 'soft skills'), Gitis completed the young professors teaching training programme (BKO) at the faculty of science at the University of Amsterdam. Gitis participated in a congress on creative leadership at studio BliQ (Oss) and in TalentDag at Wageningen University Gitis is currently in process of appointment to the position of Associate Professor at Ben Gurion University. In a short term (1 - 2 years after the completion of the training), we foresee that the fellow will establish his new research line on the application on catalytic ceramic membranes for wastewater treatment applications, initiating this new field and becoming a known academic persona. In a medium term (3 - 5 years) Gitis will set forth with national and international applications of his research initiatives, using his excellent contacts with water companies and water boards, as well as his new found network in the Netherlands and in the European Union (EU). A successful outcome of the project will ensure his promotion to the position of Full Professor and Chair, becoming the leader in the field of physical-chemical wastewater purification and treatment.