About This Project
The goal of this project is to design filtration technologies using sustainability, energy costs and environmental impact as the guide. Silk protein is our target material due to available supply chains, cost, sustainable production, robust mechanical properties, and excellent biocompatibility and biodegradability, with environmentally friendly processing/fabrication.
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What is the context of this research?
Membranes are ubiquitous in molecular separation, catalysis, reactors, energy storage, dialysis, and drug release. Polymeric membranes, in particular, are widely used in industry due to their low cost and ease of production. Unfortunately, current membrane production processes are not sustainable. Most of the solvents used (primarily N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), dimethylacetamide, and dimethylformamide) are highly toxic, with NMP, the most popular solvent used, recently being restricted in the EU. Membrane fabrication is estimated to contaminate 50 billion L of water annually, with ~70% of membrane fabricators flushing this waste. Additionally, typical membranes generate non-degradable, biohazardous waste that ends up in landfills, incinerators, or as microplastics.
What is the significance of this project?
Classical membrane technologies pose threats to the environment and to human health. The market for these technologies is already billions of USD and it is estimated that the global membrane market will continue to grow at a rate of 10-15% per year, further exacerbating these environmental impacts. Petroleum-based membranes are the major issue, due to their reliance on fossil fuels, carbon emissions during production, and nonbiodegradability. Indeed, this has led to significant investment in biodegradable membrane technologies like those derived from cellulose. However, using full life-cycle analyses, current bio-derived membranes can be as bad for the environment as fossil-based membranes, with both coming in at environmental costs of over $400/1,000 m2 produced.
What are the goals of the project?
The goal of this project is to design filtration technologies using sustainability, energy costs and environmental impact as the guide. Silk is our target material due to supply chains, cost, sustainable production, robust mechanical properties, and excellent biocompatibility/biodegradability, with environmentally friendly processing. Significant research has been done on silk as a membrane technology, but this project will focus on: designing scalable materials, measuring efficacy in aqueous separations, measuring mechanical properties, conducting life-cycle analyses to quantify the benefits of replacing current technology, and assessing these materials for a broad base of membrane needs related to environmental, personal, and other applications.
A graduate student will be hired to work on this project full time, and will need the requisite materials to conduct the experiments. The stipend recommended here for the graduate student would be able to fund them for 4 full years.
The project is split into 3 aims, each split into 2 tasks, and will cover 4 years, as detailed below.
Jan 01, 2025
Aim 1 T1: Design a series of silk-based materials
Jan 01, 2026
Aim 1 T2: Design silk hybrid constructs to optimize properties
Jan 01, 2027
Aim 2 T2: Measure the separation performance of each formulation
Jan 01, 2027
Aim 2 T1: Measure the mechanical properties of each fabrication
Jan 01, 2028
Aim 3 T2: Life-cycle analysis for environmental impact and cost estimates for scaled up operation
Meet the Team
Dr. David Kaplan is an expert in silk protein engineering and silk biomaterials. He has experience in designing silk for a variety of applications including membranes and porous matrices, as well as scaling silk-based materials. He will be leading the project alongside Dr. Logan Morton, who is currently working on a variety of silk-based soft materials.
Additionally, a new graduate student will be hired to work specifically on this project.
Dr. Morton has a background in soft materials for biological applications and is currently working with soft silk-based materials at Tufts University.
David L Kaplan
David Kaplan is the Stern Family Endowed Professor of Engineering at Tufts University, a Distinguished University Professor, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He also holds faculty appointments in the departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Chemistry, Biology and in the School of Medicine. His research focus is on biopolymer engineering, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and cellular agriculture. He has published over 1,000 peer reviewed papers, is editor-in-chief of ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering and he serves on many editorial boards and programs for journals and universities. He has received awards for his research and teaching and is an elected Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering.
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