Membrane-based water treatment using functionalized carbon nanotubes

2011-2012 E²SHI Seed Grant

Research Team

Haiou Huang (Principal Investigator), former Assistant Scientist, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, School of Public Health

Howard FairbrotherProfessor, Department of Chemistry, School of Arts & Sciences

Joseph Jacangelo, adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, School of Public Health


Low Pressure Membrane (LPM) filtration is an increasingly popular water treatment strategy because it requires little energy and has demonstrated ability to improve the safety of drinking water for municipal, community and household applications. LPMs have also been increasingly used for water reuse applications, especially for indirect potable reuse. Commercially available LPMs include either polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) or polyethersulfone (PES) membranes containing pores ranging from 0.01 µm to 0.1 µm in size. Studies show solute-membrane interactions affect LPMs in water treatment, which decreases LPM productivity and increases the cost of water treatment. Current LPMs are also often ineffective at removing many dissolved contaminants because they rely solely on sieving effects. Consequently, feedwater to LPM filtration is pretreated to remove membrane foulants and certain contaminants.

Dr. Huang and team explored the extent to which functionalized carbon nanotubes (f-CNT) can enhance and augment the treatment capabilities of LPMs – and improve the productivity of water treatment. The team hopes the findings will be applied to water treated for different purposes (drinking water treatment, wastewater treatment and reclamation) and at different scales (municipal, community, and point-of-use).

The US EPA has made a regulatory determination that perchlorate is a contaminant to be concerned about and is considering one for hexavalent chromium. f-CNTs offer a revolutionary new approach to use LPMs to improve water quality by removing these contaminants and a whole host of similar microconstituents that pose a threat to environmental health and safety.



Huang, H., Fairbrother, H., Teychene B., Ajmani G., Abbott Chalew, T., Gallagher, M.J., Cho, H., Schwab, K., and Jacangelo, J. (2014). Carbon nanotube composite membranes for small ‘designer’ water treatment systemsWater Science & Technology: Water Supply. Vol 14, No 5, pp 917–923.

Gallagher, M.J., Huang, H., Schwab, K.J., Fairbrother, H., Teychene B. (2013). Generating backwashable carbon nanotube mats on the inner surface of polymeric hollow fiber membranesJournal of Membrane Science, 446, pp. 59-67.

Ajmani G., Goodwin, D., Marsh, K., Fairbrother, H., Schwab, K.J., Jacangelo, J.G., and Huang, H. (2012). Modification of Low Pressure Membranes with Carbon Nanotube Layers for Fouling ControlWater Research, 46, 5645-5654.

When there's a huge spill of solar energy, its just called a nice day.
— Adam Browning, Vote Solar