Science and Technology to Secure the Future for Water and Energy

September 25th, 2020


The Granite Room, Perth Arena, 1 November 2018

CSIRO together with our Alumni members hosted the first event in our new Science Forum series. The event was well attended and we hosted networking drinks afterwards where a few teams from CSIRO exhibited their latest projects.

To request a transcript please contact us.

Please read below for a synopsis of the presentation and more information on our speakers.

Around the world, drought inflicts an increasingly unpredictable, frequent and devastating toll on human activities, ranging from, for example, struggling to secure access to sufficient clean water to simply survive, leading to political unrest and instability, increasing the cost of agriculture and manufacturing operations, and damaging the environment, both directly and indirectly. Climate change is exacerbating the stress on both water supply and demand. Water and energy are inexorably linked, with enormous volumes of water required to generate energy in many cases and large energy inputs required to purify water. In the U.S., thermoelectric power plants account for 41% of total water withdrawals, with nearly all the water requiring some form of purification before use. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unleashed a sea of valuable hydrocarbons in the U.S., revitalizing the chemical industry, weakening dependence on foreign energy sources, and reducing oil and gas prices worldwide. However, oil and gas production comes at a substantial price in terms of the amount of water required and the amount of flowback or produced water generated. In many cases, for every barrel of oil produced, 5 or more barrels of water are also produced. This water is contaminated and requires substantial cleanup (i.e., energy input) for any form of beneficial use. An additional indicator of the importance of water is its significance for economic activity. It’s estimated that every million USD of economic activity requires 22,000 m3 of water per year; the faster our economies run, the more clean water we need.

However, the world is not at a loss for water. We have more water than we could ever use. But, 96.5% of it is in the oceans, too contaminated with salt for many anthropogenic uses. Of the 2.5% that is freshwater, nearly 70% of it is locked in glaciers and icecaps, leaving precious little water that is both fresh and available, often not in locations where it is most needed.

Science and technology can and will alleviate water shortages, weaken the linkage between energy and water, and arrest the environmental damage currently occurring due to agricultural runoff (e.g., uncontrolled algal blooms), conventional and unconventional oil and gas production, and energy generation based on fossil fuels. A “moonshot for water” has been proposed in the U.S. to bring science and technology to bear on reducing the cost of seawater desalination to be comparable to that of conventional drinking water costs. Disruptive, membrane-based technologies will lead the way in bringing about this revolution. Membrane-based seawater desalination is already the least energy intensive way to desalinate seawater and membranes are increasingly used for wastewater treatment and reuse. Basic and applied science discoveries will pave the way for next generation membranes that will be highly selective, fouling resistant, low energy and highly resilient. Rational control of pore size and pore size distribution in membrane filters is critical to such developments. Discovering and developing the underpinning science to predict ion and water transport across membranes designed to separate ions from water is already providing profound insight regarding molecular strategies to tailor next generation membranes.

B. D. Freeman

McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, Center for Energy and Environmental Resources, Center for Research in Water Resources and Texas Materials Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, 10100 Burnet Road, Building 133 (CEER), Austin, TX 78758 USA

Our speakers

Dr Anita Hill

Dr Anita Hill is the Executive Director of Future Industries at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Future Industries is a $310m pa sector comprised of 1520 researchers across 25 sites in Australia and overseas and includes Agriculture and Food, Health and Biosecurity, Manufacturing, and CSIRO Services including CSIRO Publishing, Education and Outreach, Futures, Infrastructure Testing, and Small to Medium Enterprise Engagement.

In 2014 and 2015 during the transition of the CSIRO chief executives she served as acting Chief Executive. Previously she was Executive Director of Manufacturing, Digital Productivity, and CSIRO Services, and before that Executive Director of Manufacturing, Materials, and Minerals. Prior to that she was Chief of CSIRO Process Science and Engineering and an Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader.

She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS), Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and former Chair of the Victorian Division, and Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI).

She is a current member of the Advisory Boards of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN University of Queensland), Australian Centre of Excellence in Electromaterials Science (ACES University of Wollongong), Chair of the Science Advisory Board of The Australian Synchrotron, Swinburne Industry Research Board, Industry Advisory Board of the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE University of Queensland), and Journal of Polymer Science: Polymer Physics (editorial board).

She is a former member of Advisory Boards for the Victorian Centre for Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing (VCSCM), the Australian eHealth Research Centre (AeHRC), the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia (NCEDA), and the Institute for Frontier Materials (Deakin University).

Dr. Hill’s research is in materials and process engineering and, more specifically, in transport of atoms, ions and small molecules in condensed matter. Dr Hill was awarded a Bachelor of Engineering and a Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA.

Dr Benny Freeman

Benny Freeman is the Richard B. Curran Centennial Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor of Chemical Engineering and has been a faculty member for 28 years. He completed graduate training in Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a Ph.D. in 1988. In 1988 and 1989, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI), Laboratoire Physico-Chimie Structurale et Macromoléculaire in Paris, France. Dr. Freeman was a member of the chemical engineering faculty at NC State University from 1989 – 2002, and he has been a professor of chemical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin since 2002. Dr. Freeman’s research is in polymer science and engineering and, more specifically, in mass transport of small molecules in solid polymers. He currently directs 12 Ph.D. students, 2 postdoctoral fellows, and 3 visiting scholars performing fundamental research in gas and liquid separations using polymer membranes. His research group focuses on structure/property correlation development for desalination and gas separation membrane materials, new materials for hydrogen separation, natural gas purification, carbon capture, and new materials for improving fouling resistance and permeation performance in liquid separation membranes.

His research is described in more than 400 publications and 23 patents/patent applications. He has co-edited 5 books on these topics. He has won a number of awards, including a Fulbright Distinguished Chair (2017), the Distinguished Service Award from the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) (2015), Joe J. King Professional Engineering Achievement Award from The University of Texas (2013), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Clarence (Larry) G. Gerhold Award (2013), Society of Plastics Engineers International Award (2013), Roy W. Tess Award in Coatings from the PMSE Division of ACS (2012), the ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science (2009), AIChE Institute Award for Excellence in Industrial Gases Technology (2008), and the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Project of the Year (2001). He is a Fellow of the AAAS, AIChE, ACS, and the PMSE and IECR Divisions of ACS. He has served as chair of the PMSE Division of ACS, chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Membranes: Materials and Processes, President of the North American Membrane Society, Chair of the Membranes Area of the Separations Division of the AIChE, and Chair of the Separations Division of AIChE. He currently serves as Past-Chair of the Admissions Committee for AIChE. He is the Director of the Center for Materials for Water and Energy Systems (M-WET), a U.S. DOE Energy Frontier Research Center.