Center Receives $500,000 From NSF to Continue Membrane Research

University of Arkansas researchers have received $500,000 to continue work at the Membrane Science, Engineering and Technology Center, a multi-campus partnership between academic and industry partners.

Known as MAST, the center is focused on developing technologies for water recycling and reuse, pharmaceutical purification, novel materials for energy production, and chemical and biochemical processing.

It is an official NSF Industry and University Cooperative Research Centers Program.

Ranil Wickramasinghe, a professor in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering, is the MAST center director and the University of Arkansas site director.

The funding is from the National Science Foundation and will be spread over five years. Wickramasinghe is the primary investigator on the funding, and Xianghong Qian from the department of biomedical engineering is the co-PI on the Phase II funding.

Additional research funding of about $300,000 per year will be provided by industrial sponsors including engineering firm Garver USA, Tyson Foods, pharmaceutical companies Bristol-Meyer Squibb and Medimmune, Asahi Kasei Bioprocessing and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

Wickramasinghe said the latest funding is the result of successful research.

"This Phase II funding builds upon the success of Phase I projects over the last three years," he said. "During Phase I period, the UA research team has successfully developed novel methods for treating poultry processing and hydraulic fracking wastewaters using electrocoagulation, membrane distillation and ultrafiltration, promoting water recycle and reuse and improving the economics of the treatment processes, sponsored by Tyson Food and Southwestern Energy."

Wickramasinghe also pointed to successful projects including a partnership with Garver USA focused on the removal of micropollutants from municipal wastewaters.

In addition, unique mixed matrix membranes have been fabricated for the removal and recycle of ammonia from aquaculture wastewaters, reducing water consumption for fish farmers in Arkansas.

Phase II projects will continue to focus on membrane and membrane processes for water recycle and reuse and for purification of protein drugs, Wickramasinghe said.

Garver USA and Tyson Foods will continue partnerships with the center. In addition, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is sponsoring projects for developing agricultural water treatment.

Pharmaceutical giants Bristol Meyer Squibb and Medimmune, virus filter manufacturer Asahi Kasei and Millipore Sigma will continue to collaborate with UA researchers on virus clearance during downstream processing.

The MAST center current has three sites, the University of Arkansas, University of Colorado at Boulder, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Penn State University will become the fourth site pending their successful NSF application. In addition the Research and Development Center for Membrane Technology, at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan recently became the first international site of the MAST Center. 

The University of Arkansas participates in two other NSF-sponsored Industry and University Cooperative Research Programs: the GRid-connected Advanced Power Electronics Systems and the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution.

Wickramasinghe holds the Ross E. Martin Chair in Emerging Technologies in Chemical Engineering.


Ranil Wickramasinghe, professor
Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering

Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering


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