Water purification: Exploring alternate approaches using 3D printed membranes

Raised of $2,000 Goal
Ended on 11/08/14
Campaign Ended
  • $1,079
  • 54%
  • Finished
    on 11/08/14

About This Project

We aim to use 3D printing to fabricate new polymer membranes for high-throughput water treatment applications. Our preliminary data indicates that roughening membrane surfaces increases their water treatment rates. We are seeking funds to purchase a new 3D printer in our lab that will allow for students to explore new surface patterns to develop next-generation membranes for water purification

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What is the context of this research?

Polymer membranes are the #1 technology for purifying water. Huge plants are used to purify ocean water for human consumption. However, these large-scale water-treatment operations are reaching a plateau in their efficiency. We are exploring new polymers and new membrane designs that overcome current challenges in the field. Our main idea in this project is to drastically increase the surface area, and design the surface structuring of new water treatment membranes using 3D printing. We want to impact how materials are designed for water purification, but these concepts may also be applicable to technologies such as fuel cells and batteries.

What is the significance of this project?

This work is critical because water treatment is a major societal need. We think about rising energy prices, but what would happen if our water bills tripled or grew by 10X? What if water was as expensive as gasoline? We can live for a long time without energy, but we cannot live for more than a few days without clean water. Our polymers are designed to lower the energy demands of water purification. Further modification of the membranes through 3D printing will enable a new era of membrane design for this important area.

What are the goals of the project?

Our immediate goal is to buy a new 3D printer for dedicated membrane work by the students in our group. We have some experience 3D printing simple structures, but a new machine will allow us to customize the printer specifically for printing these new types of membranes using our specialized polymers. Graduate students, undergraduates, and other researchers in the lab will have access to this machine and will be able to test their concepts with your support. They will maintain a web page on their progress and report back to the community on their milestones and learnings with the 3D printer we purchase with these funds and the performance of their new membranes.


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We have some experience with 3D printing, but most of our machines are not advanced enough to handle the new polymers we develop in our lab for water treatment membranes. Getting a machine in our lab will allow the students to capitalize on the start of the school year during the design of their projects for the new semester.

We are funded to work on new polymers, but so far 3D printing is too new for the funding agencies to take a big risk on. We need your help in seeding this new activity in our lab to move membrane design beyond flat sheets and into 3-dimensions where we can customize the surface pattern to achieve higher levels of performance than we have been able to attain so far.

Our main budgetary item is a new 3D printer that will be capable of being customized for printing new membrane polymers. We hope to build on our initial funding success with the purchase of a fluid delivery system for polymer solutions and eventually funding of a graduate student on this work.

Meet the Team

Michael Hickner
Michael Hickner
Ziyi Miao
Ziyi Miao
Harrison Cassady
Harrison Cassady
Jiho Seo
Jiho Seo
Victoria Christensen
Victoria Christensen

Team Bio

I joined Penn State in 2007. Before my work as a professor, I was a staff researcher at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico working on alternative energy and water purification technologies. My research and teaching interests include all aspects of polymeric materials, using polymers in batteries, fuel cells and desalination, and learning how the structure of matter influences material properties and function.

I discovered polymers during my undergraduate studies at Michigan Tech through my love of chemistry and physics, so engineering and materials science were natural places for me. Currently in our lab we synthesize many different types of polymers, but most of our samples are flat pieces of plastic sheet - not very exciting. We are exploring 3D printing to add a new dimension to our research with structured interfaces.

Between work and chasing my kids around the neighborhood with my wife, I spend may spare time dreaming about skiing and sailing - anything to do with water.

Michael Hickner

I am an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. I'm interested in polymers, energy, water, and the cool stuff that materials can do.

My research group performs government and industry-sponsored research in polymer membranes, polymer synthesis, and the properties of polymeric materials and thin films. We educate students and produce professionals that bring new ideas to industry, government labs, and academia.

We are starting new efforts in 3D printing to push our research objectives into this new processing method and to involve students and researchers at all levels with different skill sets. 3D printing is the future and we want to be there.

Between work and chasing my kids around the neighborhood with my wife, I spend my spare time dreaming about skiing and sailing - anything to do with water.

Harrison Cassady

I love learning and using my hands to create new and exciting things. Figuring out how to tweak and hack things to my will is exciting to me and is the reason I do what I do.

Victoria Christensen

I am a freshman at Penn State studying Materials Science and Engineering. I am interested in nanotechnology from my experience with electrospinning and scanning electron microscope analysis.

I love 3D printing, arduino programming, and finding cool projects on instructables.com and in MAKE magazine. I am a self proclaimed nerd who loves to geek out about new technology with people who are interested in the same things I am!

In my spare time, I play soccer and tennis with my friends, read books, and spend time with my family.

Additional Information

Our lab group hard at work on assembling and tuning our first 3D printer that was funded by group contributions!

Our lab group page:

Project Backers

  • 16Backers
  • 54%Funded
  • $1,079Total Donations
  • $67.44Average Donation
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