Prof. Elimelech Named AEESP 2016-17 Distinguished Lecturer

Menachem Elimelech, the Roberto C. Goizueta Professor of Chemical & Environmental Engineering, has been selected by the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) as its 2016-17 Distinguished Lecturer. 

The selection, a highly competitive process, means that Elimelech will travel to 16 universities in North America this school year. In addition to delivering the lecture and a Q&A session, each visit will include several events with faculty and students. Elimelech said he’s particularly excited for the opportunity to reach out to others in the environmental engineering field. 

“Many of these places, I’ve never been there, so it’s good to meet my colleagues in the peer institutions and see what they’re doing,” said Elimelech, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering who founded Yale's Environmental Engineering program in 1998. He added that the series got off to a great start this month with his first lecture at Clemson University. 

“I had a one-hour session with grad students, and they asked questions about research, career, how to be successful, and it was very inspiring to talk with them,” said Elimelech, who also serves as co-principal investigator and lead researcher for the membrane processes research for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems center (NEWT), founded last year with an $18.5 million NSF grant.

Jaehong Kim, professor and chair of chemical & environmental engineering, said he was pleased that AEESP has recognized Elimelech’s achievements and that the lecture series will be a great way to promote his work to others in the field. 

“Professor Elimelech has made lasting contributions to the field of environmental engineering through his pioneering research and outstanding mentoring of graduate students and postdocs,” he said. “On behalf of our faculty and students, I congratulate him on this distinction and thank him for his continuous efforts to promote Yale’s environmental engineering program.” 

At each university, Elimelech will give one of two lectures selected for the series. One is “The Global Challenge for Water Supply: Is Seawater Desalination a Sustainable Solution?” in which Elimelech discusses the limitations of current technologies to purify seawater and future directions to enhance the sustainability of seawater desalination. The problem, he said, is that the thermodynamics required of the process is so energy-intensive and future advances will not result in dramatic energy reductions. 

“I’m advocating that you need to try all other options, including wastewater reuse, because water desalination is at least five times more energy-intensive than treating, for example, water from reservoirs or rivers,” he said. 

The other lecture, “High-Performance Membranes for Energy-Efficient Desalination and Wastewater Reuse,” highlights innovations in materials used for filtering membranes. Elimelech said the talk will include his thoughts about the potential use of aquaporin, the water-filtering proteins found in the cells of living organisms.

“They have been perfected through the evolution of millions of years, so that only water can go through it,” Elimelech said. “If we can find some way to mimic aquaporin or isolate and grow materials that produce it, we can create a membrane for commercial use. That would be great because it could mean complete removal of salt and you could save energy.”

The lecture series is a key part of the AEESP Foundation’s mission, which is to support education, outreach, and scientific research to improve the state of knowledge in the field of environmental engineering.