NETL’s Lingxiang Zhu, a researcher who specializes in the development of membranes to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial sources, will receive the 2023 Young Membrane Scientist Award at the North American Membrane Society (NAMS) annual meeting May 13-17 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Zhu was nominated for the award by David Hopkinson, the technical portfolio lead for Point Source Carbon Capture at NETL. Zhu has worked under Hopkinson’s technical supervision as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a staff scientist on NETL’s site support contract since May 2018.
During his time at NETL, Zhu has demonstrated an exceptionally high level of skill and leadership in polymer membrane design for gas separations, with his work consistently being selected for funding through U.S. Department of Energy field work proposals.
“Most importantly, he has made substantial contributions to the field of membrane science in the form of three novel and industrially relevant inventions for CO2 capture, which is a topic that is vital to the environmental and economic stability of the United States,” Hopkinson stated in his nomination letter to the NAMS awards committee.
Membrane-based CO2 capture uses semi-permeable materials that allow for the selective transport and separation of CO2 from emissions generated by fossil energy plants, blast furnaces, cement kilns and other industrial sources. The captured CO2 can then be stored in deep underground reservoirs or converted into value-added products.
NETL research focuses on the development of membranes for CO2 separation that have a long lifetime, high permeance and selectivity and are composed of low-cost, easily manufactured materials. Compared to other separation technologies, such as solvents and sorbents, membranes offer a comparatively simple separation process. Membranes require few moving parts and no regeneration phase, resulting in potential cost savings for CO2 capture. Additionally, the simplicity of membrane-based processes offers the advantage of reduced capital and maintenance costs, both initial and long term.
One of Zhu’s inventions, for which a U.S. patent application was filed in July 2021, is a membrane support that addresses a pervasive challenge in the field of gas separation membrane science. It is well understood that high-performance selective materials must be coupled with a high-permeance support layer in order to yield a thin film composite with the lowest overall mass transfer resistance. However, the vast majority of gas separation membrane research is focused exclusively on development of novel selective materials. As a result, there are few commercially available options for support materials.
According to Hopkinson, Zhu recognized this gap in membrane research and developed a method of engineering a rigid backbone polymer. Although other membrane supports have been reported in the literature, none to date can match the overall performance of Zhu’s support membrane. This innovation was foundational for every thin film composite membrane technology produced by NETL.
Hopkinson also stated that Zhu “is a natural leader, always eager to engage in a new problem, and consequently is frequently sought out by others for advice and guidance in a wide variety of materials science topics.” Furthermore, the inventions that Zhu has developed at NETL “have excellent prospects to reach a future market for CO2 capture and are reflective of his creativity and mastery of membrane science,” Hopkinson stated.
Zhu earned his doctorate in chemical engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering at Beijing University of Chemical Technology.
NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.