University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

Research Statement

Current Research

  • Membrane separations for sustainable water and energy production
  • Forward osmosis and pressure retarded osmosis
  • Electrospun nanofibers for water and wastewater treatment
  • Hollow fiber fabrication and modeling
  • System engineering for hybrid processes
  • Thin film composite membrane design and fabrication
  • Polymeric membrane characterization
  • Activated carbon nanofiber fabrics
  • Porous materials characterization
  • Water technology for the developing world

McCutcheon Lab Research Statement

Mission Statement: Our research goal is to enable emergent water treatment and reuse technologies through innovative materials and process design.

Our active research projects include:

NOVEL MEMBRANES FOR FORWARD OSMOSIS:We have developed novel thin film composite membrane materials and structures that have enabled the synthesis of high performance osmotic membranes.  We have accomplished this using nanofiber and hollow fiber materials as well as through the co-developent of technology with industrial partners.

NANOFIBER MEMBRANES FOR WATER PURIFICATION:  Nanofiber materials made from electrospinning and other similar processes possess many characteristics that are important for membrane separations.  We make a variety of these types of membranes including standalone fibers, activated carbon fibers, and composite structures.  Applications include forward osmosis, adsorption, microfiltration, and membrane distillation.

ELEMENT TESTING FOR FORWARD OSMOSIS AND HYBRID SYSTEMS:  We have built new element-scale testing rigs for studying the numerous commercial elements available on the FO market today.  We intend to work with a variety of element providers to not only evaluate performance of FO “at scale”, but develop standard methods for testing these element.

NOVEL MEMBRANES FOR PRESSURE RETARDED OSMOSIS: Pressure retarded osmosis is an emerging renewable energy technology which, like forward osmosis, involves osmotic flow of water across a semi-permeable membrane. The osmotic flow is harnessed by a hydroturbine where it is converted to electricity. Naturally occurring osmotic pressure gradients (river deltas) and engineered gradients (osmotic engines) both rely on an appropriately designed membrane for efficient conversion of energy from osmotic pressure to electricity. This research program involves modifying commercial reverse osmosis membranes and designing new membranes for use in pressure retarded osmosis processes.

NEW DRAW SOLUTIONS FOR FORWARD OSMOSIS AND OSMOTIC HEAT ENGINES: We are working with national and international partners to design and test new draw solutions for FO and closed loop PRO applications. These draw solutions have been designed or chosen based on their hydrodynamic and molecular properties.

NOVEL MEMBRANE CHARACTERIZATION METHODS: Thin film composite membrane characterization has often been limited to the selective layer. However, with ever increasing importance being placed on the structural properties of the support layer (especially in forward osmosis), novel characterization techniques will be needed to quantify structural properties. Various porosimetry techniques are being used to quantify the pore properties of membrane support layers while highly innovative imaging techniques, including MicroCT and focused ion beam SEM, will lead to three dimensional imaging of these structures.

CHEMICAL ENGINEERING PEDAGOGY DEVELOPMENT USING MEMBRANES: Membranes offer a unique opportunity for teaching fundamental engineering principles to undergraduate chemical engineers. We have developed a senior unit operations laboratory module based on reverse osmosis and forward osmosis. During this lab, students must calculate fundamental membrane constants (permeability and selectivity) while learning how process parameters and membrane design and chemistry impact performance.

Completed Projects

MICROBIAL FUEL CELL ANODES USING ACTIVATED CARBON NANOFIBER: The microbial fuel cell is an emerging wastewater treatment technology that utilizes electrogenic bacteria to digest organic contaminants in wastewater while simultaneously producing electricity. The cogeneration of treated wastewater with electricity offer a unique technology that may be a self sustaining wastewater treatment option. This research program was funded by the National Science Foundation and involved fabricating an activated carbon nanofiber from an electrospun precursor. Professor Baikun Li, assistant professor in the Environmental Engineering Program, was a collaborator on the project.

ZERO ENERGY WATER PURIFIER FOR THE DEVELOPING WORLD:  Nearly one-billion people in the world today lack access to safe drinking water.  Our hope is to bring a clean, safe and nutritious drink to those vulnerable to or afflicted with waterborn illness. In collaboration with Hydration Technologies Innovation, we are evaluating the Hydrowell System for use in harsh environments. With proper engineering, these commercial systems should be able to provide essential nutrients and electrolytes to victims of natural disaster or refugees without costly transport of bottled water. This project was conducted through an existing USAID/HED project with the Environmental Engineering Program and with Engineers without Borders, USA-UCONN.