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Synthesis of Polymer Membranes for Dehydration of Ethanol

Primary Investigators:
G. Kane Jennings (lead)
Shihong Lin
Brief Description of Project:
The rational design of the next generation of membranes for solvent-solvent separations is a significant challenge, given the vast chemical and design space, but could be realized by Materials Genome Initiative (MGI)-inspired screening and has the potential to transform the membrane development paradigm. This project is developing functionality- and performance-driven screening with close coupling between simulations and experiment to tailor high-performance membranes for targeted separations. Specifically, we will focus on the dehydration of polar solvents by pervaporation where effective new materials can eliminate the need for high-cost and high-energy separations while enabling effective solvent reuse for sustainable manufacturing.

We have developed a method called spin coating ring opening metathesis polymerization (scROMP) that enables the fabrication of polymeric membranes simply and rapidly with control over membrane thickness by varying spin speed.  The current “scaffold” polymer contains two acyl chlorides in each repeat unit for straightforward conversion by amines and alcohols to thousands of polymer film compositions.  This vast experimental space, coupled with simulations that guide the experiments, enables us to discover new membrane compositions that are ripe for further development in this area.  The initial focus has been on modification of the scaffold polymer film to generate charged, cross-linked membranes that are designed to favor water over polar organics.  Simulations are examining the structure and interactions of oligomers of this same composition in water versus polar organics.  Results from the simulations will ultimately guide the choice of polymer compositions and the cross-linking levels to achieve highly selective transport of water from the polar organic.

Desired Qualifications:
Interest in experimental research, completion of organic chemistry
Nature of Supervision:
The student will be mentored in the lab directly by a Ph.D. student.  The student will meet with formally with Prof. Jennings weekly (informally more often), and with the entire project team biweekly.
A Brief Research Plan (period is for 10 weeks):
Week 1: Learn the spin coating ROMP process; learn to characterize films
Weeks 2 - 4:  Vary spin speed and monomer concentration to achieve uniform conformal thin film composite membranes that cover pores and enable high permeance of pure water
Weeks 6 - 5:  Investigate the effect of polymer composition on the membrane selectivity for water over ethanol and the pure water permeance.
Week 10: Summarize key findings and develop final presentation and poster.

Number of Open Slots: 1
Contact Information:
Name: G. Kane Jennings
Department: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering