Three CEE Grad Students Win 1st Place in the Illinois Water Environment Assoc. Design Competition

Yechan Won, 5th year PhD student in Environmental Engineering, engaged the help of fellow grad students, 2nd year PhD student Haley Lewis and MS student Haotian Cai, to put his research to work in the design of an innovative membrane bioreactor (MBR). The students developed an ingenious fix to a persistent problem that plagues all membrane technologies – fouling of membrane surfaces that clogs the flow of water. In his PhD research, Won has been working on the development of new materials that can be easily applied to a membrane surface to create a protective layer and then, once fouling accumulates, dissolved away and reapplied restoring the membrane to its pristine state.  

When Won heard about the IL Water Environment Association (IWEA) student competition, he thought there might be an opportunity to test his technology in a practical application and determine if use of this small adjustment to MBR operation could actually improve MBR performance and save a company money. For the IWEA design competition, Won and his partners detailed the design and economic analysis of a fouling resistant MBR system for a local microbrewery by applying a polyelectrolyte complex (PEC) protective layer to the surface of MBR membranes. The team calculated that the total capital costs of the PEC technology could be paid back with 4 years with the operational savings.

The NU team’s design will be entered into the national competition. The First Place award comes with a $1000 prize and also funding to attend the national meeting of WEFTEC scheduled for early October in New Orleans.

The IWEA Student Design Competition (SDC) is intended to promote a “real world” design experience for undergraduate or graduate students interested in pursuing an education and/or career in wastewater, water resources and environmental engineering. This competition tasks teams to design a problem statement and present a project solution meeting the requirements of the problem that they have worked on as a team.  

Won, Lewis and Cai all work under the direction of Professor Kimberly Gray, who was also the faculty advisor for the design project. Won’s research is co-advised by Professor Kenneth Shull in Material Science and Engineering. Won’s materials research has resulted in 2 invention disclosures, 1 patent application and 4 research publications.