ORAU award supports Vanderbilt engineer’s research on emerging desalination technology

An engineering professor who is exploring the use of abundant waste materials – such as crumb rubber from scrap tires – to drop the cost of an emerging water desalination technology has received a competitive research grant from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

Shihong Lin, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is one of 35 junior faculty nationwide to win a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award, which provides funds to enrich the research and professional growth of young faculty at ORAU member institutions.

Shihong Lin accepts a plaque representing the ORAU's Powe Award from Dean Philippe Fauchet during a reception to honor Lin's achievement.

The recipients, each of whom is in the first two years of a tenure track position, will receive $5,000 in seed money for the 2016-2017 academic year to enhance their research during the early stages of their career. Each recipient’s institution also matches the ORAU award with an additional $5,000.

Lin, also an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is conducting research on the use of waste materials to lower the cost of capacitive deionization (CDI), a promising new desalination technology.

“CDI can potentially become a highly energy-efficient means of augmenting our freshwater supply. Water desalination is a costly process and it’s an energy hog,” Lin said.

“In the core of the CDI technology is a highly porous carbon electrode that’s responsible for taking out ions from water. An ideal carbon electrode should have high salt removal capacity, long-term stability and low cost of production,” Lin said.

Lin hopes to develop inexpensive activated carbon electrodes for CDI using abundant waste materials such as crumb rubber and lignin, a waste product when wood is processed into paper pulp. After cellulose, lignin is the most renewable carbon source on Earth.

Lin is collaborating with Amit Naskar, senior researcher and leader of the Carbon and Composites Group in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

Civil engineering graduate students Kofi Christie (left) and Li Wang work with Prof. Lin on the desalination research.

“I feel very honored to receive the Powe award and consider it as an excellent opportunity to establish long-term collaboration with outstanding colleagues at ORNL,” Lin said.

“This project synergizes Amit Naskar’s expertise on materials synthesis with Shihong’s experimental expertise on desalination processes. We are very proud of Shihong’s commitment to the mission of discovery and the distinction he brings to the school of engineering,” said Dean Philippe Fauchet.

ORAU, a 121-member consortium of major PhD-granting academic institutions, cultivates collaborative partnerships that enhance national scientific research and education enterprise.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering