Wastewater recovery research earns NASA grant

November 14, 2012

A research effort led by Arizona State University engineer Mary Laura Lind is among 10 projects the National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently chose to support.

Lind has been awarded a grant from NASA’s inaugural Space Technology Research Opportunities for Early Career Faculty program. The new program focuses on aiding development of technologies that can help the nation reach its space-exploration goals as well as boost commercial space ventures. Mary Laura Lind engineering Download Full Image

This year’s grant recipients represent “some of the most talented new faculty from the best institutions of higher learning in America,” the program’s director, Michael Gazarik, said in a NASA news release.

Lind is an assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She is also a senior sustainability scientist with the university’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

The NASA grant will provide $200,000 a year –renewable for up to three years – to support Lind’s work to improve technology for wastewater recovery and recycling systems designed for use in space stations and other vehicles.

“We’re excited to see Mary Laura’s research recognized by NASA with this prestigious award,” says Kyle Squires, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. “This speaks highly of her work and the high regard with which NASA views her innovative ideas.  Her project has potential for having a significant impact on the viability of commercial space exploration.”

Lind is seeking chemical and materials engineering solutions to the challenge of improving water systems for space vehicles. The grant will support her research team’s effort to develop advanced corrosion-resistant polymer membranes. Wastewater would be filtered through such membranes to maximize recovery of the water, which the process makes suitable for reuse.

The system will have to be fortified against corrosion from water containing high amounts of acidic solutions and salts, Lind explains. That will require development of a news class of membranes consisting of new composite materials through which water can be filtered more effectively, she says.

The effort will necessitate developing nanometer-scale composites to produce membranes capable of providing a sufficient barrier to the small organic compounds that must be removed from wastewater to make it reusable.

The grant enables Lind to bring on two engineering doctoral students – Heather Jamieson and Afsaneh Khosravi – to assist on the project. In addition, she will be able to expand opportunities for other graduate and undergraduate students to participate in work in her lab.

Lind came to ASU in 2010 after completing a California Nanosystems Institute Pioneer Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

Earlier Lind earned a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in materials science from the California Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s of science degree in chemical engineering from Yale University.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Biofuels: the next frontier at ASU, WSU

November 14, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State football will take on Washington State University, at 1 p.m., Nov. 17 in Tempe. Learn more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

With concerns about global warming increasing by the day, exploration into alternative energy sources is on the rise. The pursuit of biofuels has become increasingly popular, as is evidenced by research being conducted at universities around the nation, including Pac-12 sister schools Arizona State and Washington State. Download Full Image

As two of the nation’s leading research universities, it is to be expected that some areas of study should overlap. In October, ASU announced their plans to embark on a five-year renewable energy project, funded partly by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, aimed at identifying geographically sustainable “hot-spots” throughout the country that are best-suited for expansion of perennial bioenergy crops.

In like fashion, WSU’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems also announced earlier this year that they will be teaming up with the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa for a four-year, $6 million project to help Hawaii increase its energy security by modifying existing sugarcane harvesting techniques in order to better convert tropical grass crops into biofuel.

Biofuels are one of the oldest energy resources available in the world. Countries like Brazil have been gleaning ethanol from sugarcane for decades and biodiesel, made from palm oil, is commonly utilized in Europe.

Because biofuels are made from plants, they are considered “carbon neutral”; that is, the amount of carbon dioxide they release when burnt is equal to the amount they absorb during the growing process. They are also cheaper than fossil fuels and are a completely renewable resource.

ASU’s research team is focusing on the use of perennial feedstocks, such as switchgrass, as opposed to the use of crops like corn, which carry side effects including food security concerns. Utilizing perennial crops is likely to result in a decreased reliance on the use of food crops for energy production, a decreased reliance on fossil fuels, and the chance to combat greenhouse gas-induced climate change.

Researchers will be testing crops in abandoned and degraded farmland over the contiguous U.S. to determine where is best to sustainably grow perennial crops for ethanol production.

WSU’s research with UH Mānoa will look at improving tropical crop harvesting systems in order to optimize the sustainability of the process. To do this, researchers will evaluate several conditions, such as operating speeds compared to growth stages and the effects of varying terrain. Their goal is to find a sustainable and cost-effective process for harvesting biofuel crops and to develop the most efficient equipment for the job.

Both ASU and WSU have extensive experience in biofuels research. In July 2010, ASU was awarded a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a program focused on algae-based biofuels and in 2011, WSU was awarded a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a joint project with the University of Washington to research the potential for using residual wood after logging and forest thinning for aviation fuel.

Emma Greguska, emma.greguska@asu.edu
ASU media relations


Lisa Robbins

Assistant Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications