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Active Flagship Research Projects


Development of Advanced Membranes Water Purification Systems: Fabrication, Fouling Resistance, and System Configuration

MIT Professors: John Lienhard V, Karen Gleason, and Gregory Rutledge

Masdar Institute Professors: Hassan Arafat and Raed Hashaikeh


This proposed research aims to develop advanced membranes with better permeability, fouling resistance, and excellent mechanical strength using novel fabrication methods that scale to large areas. To this end, we will be:

  • Examining the relationships between system operating conditions, membrane properties, and scaling and fouling processes on the membranes.
  • Water purification by membrane distillation (MD), reverse osmosis (RO), and oil/water (O/W) systems will be considered; for MD systems, extreme salinities (>100,000 ppm) such as produced water will be examined in addition to seawater salinities (~35,000 ppm). Membrane characterization techniques will be developed, as will sensors for the detection of fouling and scaling.
  • Nanomaterials will be incorporated into the fabricated polymeric membrane to produce reinforced membranes with enhanced mechanical and chemical properties. The production of novel reinforced antifouling membranes, with an associated specification of system operating states, will be of great benefit to the desalination and water industry.


Water is indeed absolutely critical to human life, to say nothing of its importance to wealth and security for all nations. Water, including desalination, re-use, waste water and delivery are critical elements of Abu Dhabi’s economy and security and while the UAE has been blessed with many forms of wealth, sadly, this is one that the country has only in a very limited supply. The UAE is among some of the world’s most water scarce nations, while at the same time it is amongst the highest per capita water consumers in the world. In fact Abu Dhabi’s total consumption of water resources exceeds by 24 times its natural recharge capacity.

  • Water treatment technologies like desalination have allowed the UAE to continue to grow at the pace it requires. However, never has water been a more critical resource for the UAE than it is today. In recent years, many GCC countries, including UAE, have started to shift from the traditional energy-intensive thermal desalination processes to the more sustainable, environment-friendly, and cost-effective membrane-based desalination, particularly reverse osmosis (RO).
  • Solar-powered membrane desalination processes (e.g., PV-RO, solar- MD) are being heavily promoted and investigated. However, unlike thermal desalination, which has been applied in the GCC region for several decades, a gap in the know-how for membranebased desalination is well noticed in this region, including UAE.

Tremendous opportunities exist in UAE for treating and reclaiming industrial wastewater and nonconventional saline water resources. Membrane technology promises to be a viable option for most of these opportunities. It is the goal of the planned center of water technologies at MI to provide a platform for the research, knowledge transfer, and human capacity building vitally needed to achieve the full potential in this area.