Water and energy are inexorably linked, with enormous volumes of water required to generate energy in many cases and large energy inputs required to purify water. In the U.S., thermoelectric power plants account for 41 per cent of total water withdrawals, with nearly all the water requiring some form of purification before use. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unleashed a sea of valuable hydrocarbons in the US. However, oil and gas production comes at a substantial price in terms of the amount of water required and the amount of flowback or produced water generated. In many cases, for every barrel of oil produced, five or more barrels of water are also produced. This water is contaminated and requires substantial cleanup for any form of beneficial use.
Science and technology can and will alleviate water shortages, weaken the linkage between energy and water, and arrest the environmental damage currently occurring due to agricultural runoff (e.g., uncontrolled algal blooms), conventional and unconventional oil and gas production, and energy generation based on fossil fuels. A “moonshot for water” has been proposed in the U.S. to bring science and technology to bear on reducing the cost of seawater desalination to be comparable to that of conventional drinking water costs. Disruptive, membrane-based technologies will lead the way in bringing about this revolution.
This presentation will frame the water/energy nexus challenges and opportunities and provide a glimpse of potential paths forward to supply the world with low energy, abundant access to clean water.
Professor Benny Freeman is the Richard B. Curran Centennial Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor of Chemical Engineering and has been a faculty member for 28 years. He completed graduate training in Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a PhD in 1988. In 1988 and 1989, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI), Laboratoire Physico-Chimie Structurale et Macromoléculaire in Paris, France. Dr. Freeman was a member of the chemical engineering faculty at NC State University from 1989 – 2002, and he has been a professor of chemical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin since 2002. Dr. Freeman’s research is in polymer science and engineering and, more specifically, in mass transport of small molecules in solid polymers. His research group focuses on structure/property correlation development for desalination and gas separation membrane materials, new materials for hydrogen separation, natural gas purification, carbon capture, and new materials for improving fouling resistance and permeation performance in liquid separation membranes.
He has won a number of awards, including a Fulbright Distinguished Chair (2017), a Distinguished Service Award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) (2015), the Joe J King Professional Engineering Achievement Award from The University of Texas (2013), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Clarence (Larry) G Gerhold Award (2013), the Society of Plastics Engineers International Award (2013) and the Roy W Tess Award in Coatings from ACS (2012).
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