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Distinguished Lecture Series - Professor Benny D. Freeman

Start Date: June 6, 2017
End Date: June 6, 2017

​​TITLE: The Evolving Water/Energy/Food Nexus and Technologies to Reduce Linkages Between Water, Energy and Food
DATE: Tuesday, June 6, 2017

TIME: 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
LOCATION: Lecture Hall Level 0 · between Buildings 2 & 3

Increasingly, drought inflicts an unpredictable, frequent and devastating toll on human activities, ranging from, struggling to secure access to sufficient clean water to simply survive, leading to political unrest and instability, increasing the cost of agriculture and manufacturing operations, and damaging the environment, both directly and indirectly. Climate change exacerbates stress on both water supply and demand. 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% of total water withdrawals, with nearly all the water requiring some purification before use. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unleashed a sea of hydrocarbons in the U.S., revitalizing the chemical and other industries, weakening dependence on foreign energy sources, and reducing oil and gas prices worldwide. 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, 5 or more barrels of water are also produced. This water is contaminated and requires substantial cleanup (i.e., energy input) for any form of beneficial use. An additional indicator of the importance of water is its significance for economic activity. It’s estimated that every million USD of economic activity requires 22,000 m3 of water per year; the faster our economies run, the more clean water we need. Similarly, greater economic output is correlated with increased energy use as well.

However, the world is not at a loss for water; we have more of it than we could ever use. But, 96.5% of it is in the oceans, too contaminated with salt for many anthropogenic uses. Of the 2.5% that is freshwater, nearly 70% of it is locked in glaciers and icecaps, leaving precious little water that is both fresh and available, often not in locations where it is most needed.
Membrane science is alleviating water shortages, weakening the linkage between energy and water, and arresting the environmental damage 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 reduce the cost of desalination to be comparable to that of conventional drinking water costs. $20 MM US has been committed in fiscal year 2017 towards this end. Disruptive, membrane-based technologies will lead the way in bringing about this revolution. Membrane-based seawater desalination is already the least energy intensive way to desalinate seawater, and membranes are increasingly used for wastewater treatment and reuse. Basic and applied science discoveries are paving the way for next generation membranes that will be highly selective, fouling resistant, low energy and highly resilient. Rational control of pore size and pore size distribution in membrane filters is critical to such developments. Discovering and developing the underpinning science to predict ion and water transport across membranes designed to separate ions from water is already providing profound insight regarding molecular strategies to tailor next generation membranes.
This presentation will frame the water/energy/food nexus challenges and opportunities and provide a glimpse of potential paths forward to supply the world with low energy, abundant access to food and clean water.

Benny Freeman is the Richard B. Curran Centennial Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.  He is currently serving as the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Science, Innovation and Technology sponsored by CSIRO. 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 Ph.D. 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.  He currently directs 12 Ph.D. students, 2 postdoctoral fellows, and 3 visiting scholars performing fundamental research in gas and liquid separations using polymer membranes.  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.
His research is described in more than 400 publications and 23 patents/patent applications.  He has co-edited 5 books on these topics.  He has won a number of awards, including a Fulbright Distinguished Chair (2017), the Distinguished Service Award from the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) (2015), Joe J. King Professional Engineering Achievement Award from The University of Texas (2013), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Clarence (Larry) G. Gerhold Award (2013), Society of Plastics Engineers International Award (2013), Roy W. Tess Award in Coatings from the PMSE Division of ACS (2012), the ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science (2009), AIChE Institute Award for Excellence in Industrial Gases Technology (2008), and the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Project of the Year (2001).  He is a Fellow of the AAAS, AIChE, ACS, and the PMSE and IECR Divisions of ACS.  He has served as chair of the PMSE Division of ACS, chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Membranes: Materials and Processes, President of the North American Membrane Society, Chair of the Membranes Area of the Separations Division of the AIChE, and Chair of the Separations Division of AIChE. He currently serves as Chair of the Admissions Committee for AIChE.