CAREER: Battery-inspired electrodes for efficiently desalinating water or harvesting salinity gradient energy

Project: Research project

Project Details


PI Name: Christopher A. Gorski

Proposal Number: 1749207

The goal of this research will be to address two major national issues: provide the public with access to clean water and affordable electricity. The research focuses on developing devices like batteries that can use electricity to desalinate water. In addition,these devices can also produce electricity by mixing seawater with freshwater, a key benefit to coastal areas of the United States. The research aims to optimize the materials used in these devices through scientific inquiry. The goal of the education plan is to improve student learning related to water and energy issues. The PI will study how pre-existing misconceptions prevent learning, and identify ways to improve understanding and employ alternative teaching methods to correct misconceptions.

The research focuses on novel, battery-inspired electrochemical cells that can be used to desalinate water or generate electricity from salinity gradients. Several electrochemical technologies have been proposed for these purposes in the past, but their performances have been too low to significantly impact the water and energy sectors due partially to their reliance on carbon electrodes. The central hypothesis of the research is that using battery-inspired metal-based electrodes will lead to dramatic improvements in system performance. This hypothesis is supported by preliminary results demonstrating that the classes of proposed electrode materials can greatly increase the energy efficiency of desalinating water and increase the amount of electrical power produced from salinity gradients relative to existing technologies. To test this hypothesis, the PI will focus on four classes of metal-based electrode materials known to interact with sodium ions in water. The overall goal of the research is to construct a framework for rationally selecting electrode materials for desalinating water and harvesting salinity gradient energy. To achieve this goal, the proposed research will use a combination of electrochemical methods, material characterization techniques, and aquatic chemistry measurements to methodically investigate the relationships that exist among the materials? (1) charging mechanisms, (2) electrochemical properties, and (3) performances in desalinating water or harvesting salinity gradient energy. The PI will also assess how trace elements and fouling agents present in real waters affect electrode performance. The goal of the education plan is to identify student misconceptions related to electrochemistry, energy production, and water quality and treatment and to test the effectiveness of inquiry-based teaching methods for overcoming them. A misconception is conceptual knowledge that is inconsistent with commonly accepted and provable scientific consensuses. Overcoming misconceptions is critical for developing deep conceptual knowledge that is important both for professional work and daily life. The proposed work will leverage the PI?s ongoing outreach and educational efforts to identify and repair misconceptions among engineering students studying electrochemistry and grade 6-8 students studying water and energy issues. The research is transformative in that it will lead to a fundamental understanding of faradaic electrode material charging mechanisms, which can be applied to the design and modification of materials used for desalinating water and harvesting salinity gradient energy.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date8/1/187/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $500,000.00


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