Jeffrey McCutcheon, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has been selected as a 2013 DuPont Young Professor. He is one of just 14 young professors, representing seven countries, to receive one of the awards this year. The three-year award will fund his ongoing research in the area of novel membranes for use in water filtration and energy storage.
The DuPont Young Professor Program is designed to help promising young and untenured research faculty, working in areas of interest to DuPont, to begin their careers.
McCutcheon, who has a dual appointment in the Center for Environmental Sciences & Engineering, joined UConn in 2008, after receiving his Ph.D. from Yale University in 2007. At UConn, he has established a respected program in novel filtration technologies and in particular, forward osmosis and pressure retarded osmosis.
Both of these technologies are osmotically-driven membrane separation processes based on the natural tendency of water to flow from a solution of low solute concentration to one of higher concentration.
In both processes, water moves across a selective, semi-permeable membrane from a relatively dilute feed solution – such as seawater, brackish water, or wastewater – into a highly concentrated ‘draw’ solution. Clean water permeates through the membrane from the feed water to the draw solution, leaving behind salts, contaminants, and other feed solutes as a concentrated brine stream. And unlike conventional reverse osmosis, McCutcheon notes, these processes require no addition of energy.
In forward osmosis, the diluted draw solution is carried to a secondary separation system that removes the solute from the water and recycles it within the system; drinkable water is one product of the process. In the case of pressure retarded osmosis, the chemical potential energy of a saline solution is converted directly into electricity.
Central to his work in advancing both techniques is novel membranes that employ electrospun nanofiber nonwovens. For his DuPont-sponsored research, McCutcheon will seek to establish that DuPont’s Hybrid Membrane Technology can be used in thin film composite membranes for salinity-driven processes.
McCutcheon directs the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory at UConn, which serves as an educational and research center for innovative technologies aimed at addressing the world’s water and energy problems.
He also oversees an NSF-sponsored, entrepreneurial Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) site at UConn, which brings undergraduate students from across the nation to campus for summer research and development in energy, environmental, process, polymer and materials, and bioengineering and biotechnology areas in collaboration with industry. And he is advisor to the UConn student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which is working to develop desalination and water treatment technologies for local use in developing countries.