Indian American PhD student bags ATMA, Bureau of Reclamation Fellowship for water treatment research



An Indian American doctoral student of the University of Michigan, Harsh Patel, has been chosen for the fellowship for Membrane Technology to investigate reducing the cost, energy usage, and environmental impacts of water treatment and desalination.

Patel, a PhD student of the Department of Chemical Engineering, recently received an American Membrane Technology Association (AMTA) and United States Bureau of Reclamation Fellowship for Membrane Technology.

“I am extremely pleased to have received this honor,” Patel said. “Especially knowing that successful work in this area will have direct implications on global problems like water scarcity as well as technologies needed to implement the research at a larger scale.”

Each year, four AMTA and Reclamation Fellowships are given to graduate students investigating innovations for water treatment in membrane-related research. Recipients receive an $11,750 award to support the advancement of membrane technology research in water, wastewater, or water reuse industries.

In February, Patel and other fellowship recipients will attend the 2023 Membrane Technology Conference and Exposition to share their research through a podium presentation or poster in Knoxville, TN.

Patel’s work investigates establishing novel next-generation ion-exchange membranes (IEMs) capable of selectively removing targeted ions from aqueous solutions like seawater, groundwater, and brines, to meet the rising water and energy demands.

Harsh Patel received his BS in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2021. He is currently a Chemical Engineering PhD student and graduate research assistant in the Kamcev Lab, a research group that aims to develop next-generation polymeric materials for water treatment and energy generation and storage applications.

The results of this research will allow the discovery of design parameters to synthesize desirable IEMs for various ion separation applications which are critical for industrial applications such as lithium extraction, water softening, and nitrate recovery.

IEMs are polymeric materials that possess charged functional groups on the polymer backbone and can facilitate the transport of counter-ions across the membrane, while effectively rejecting co-ions.

Current commercial IEMs have been implemented for water treatment and desalination technologies such as electrodialysis and capacitive deionization, both of which focus on counter-ion and co-ion separation.

“Most commercial IEMs cannot efficiently discriminate between different counterions,” Patel said. “Which hinders the effective isolation of lithium or nitrate as the solutions containing these two species possess other monovalent and divalent ions in high concentrations.”

A central objective of Patel’s work is to synthesize inexpensive IEMs with controlled water content and charge density over broad ranges, creating opportunities to tune ion selectivity by exploring molecular-level phenomena that affect the competitive ion transport in IEMs.


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