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Cheaper and more sustainable desalination - how blue-sky research finds application in large-scale industrial processes

28 Feb 2019

Learn about sustainable desalination and debate with Dr. Thomas Schäfer, a ERC Proof of Concept grantee

Webinar 28 February 2019 12.30 - 14:00 CET

Register here

Water scarcity will be aggravating significantly globally in the near future. This leads to the pressing need to efficiently produce drinking water through, for example, desalination. Membrane separations offer in principle a cost-efficient solution for this purpose as compared to thermal processes: as a filter, membranes let pass pure water while retaining any dissolved matter. However, the latter will accumulate with time on the membrane surface, giving rise to what is generally known as "membrane fouling". Fouling severely affects the process efficiency and requires cleaning, resulting in process downtimes, increased costs, shorter membrane lifetime and environmental stress. Its importance becomes even clearer when considering that more than 18 000 desalination plants operating worldwide produce about 90 million cubic-meters of drinking water per day, roughly the amount of water that 2 million people consume during a whole year.

This webinar will present a disruptive technology which minimizes the detrimental effects of membrane fouling. Based on research funded by the European Research Council, the patented technology commercialized by the spin-off "Surphase" finds its application not only in the production of drinking water but also in other sectors with stringent exigencies of water quality, such as oil&gas, the health sector, and the pharmaceutical industry.

The webinar will highlight how fundamental, "blue-sky" research can very positively impact on conventional, established industrial processes, and how the interaction of both generates tremendous mutual benefits.

The speaker 

Thomas Schäfer - Research Professor, POLYMAT, University of the Basque Country; ERC Grantee

Thomas Schäfer is holding a research professorship by Ikerbasque, the Basque Foundation for Science, at the University of the Basque Country. His multidisciplinary research group at the Institute for Polymer Materials (POLYMAT) focuses on mixed-matrix and stimuli-responsive membranes, as well as related interfacial phenomena. The research relies on combining new developments in chemistry and biological as well as materials sciences with traditional membrane separation technology in order to form new generations of membranes with applications in downstream processing, water treatment, sensors, monitoring, biomedicine and controlled delivery.

Schäfer obtained his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg and his PhD in membrane separation processes from Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He was appointed to his current role in 2009.

In 2007, Thomas received a starting grant from the European Research Council in the first “IDEAS” call and became the group leader of the project titled ‘Mixed-Matrix Interfaces for Enhanced Fine Chemicals Downstream Processing and Monitoring (“MATRIX”)’. The aim of the project was to develop tunable, highly-selective and bioinspired interfaces; the underlying driving force was to understand better (bio)molecular interactions and ultimately the concept of selectivity. In 2015, he was awarded a ERC Proof of Concept grant for his project entitled ‘Early Stage Sensing of Fouling in Membrane Water Treatment (ESSENS)’, dedicated to improving management of the drinking water production using monitoring device that outperforms existing fouling detection techniques and allows optimizing both fouling prevention and membrane cleaning cycles.

Apart from his research activity, Thomas is very concerned with the prospect and current situation of young researchers. He is co-founder of the Young Academy of Europe and was promotor and Chair of the COST Targeted Network “Sci-Generation”.


Carine Ternest -




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