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Posted: June 23, 2009
Membrane separation technologies expert to receive upcoming top honor
(Nanowerk News) Kamalesh Sirkar, PhD, distinguished professor of chemical engineering at NJIT, and internationally-renowned expert in membrane separation technologies will be the recipient of the NJIT Board of Overseers Excellence in Research Prize and Medal. The award presentation and lecture will take place Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009, in Kupfrian Hall on the NJIT campus. A reception will immediately follow.
This past year, Sirkar was named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also received last fall the Clarence G. Gerhold Award from the separations division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The Gerhold Award recognized his extensive contributions to chemical separation technology. In honor of the award, two special sessions sponsored by AIChE were held. The sessions gave colleagues from around the world the chance to present lectures about their own work which Sirkar had influenced.
Sirkar, who is also the foundation professor in membrane separations at NJIT, is best known among colleagues as the inventor of the commercialized membrane-based solvent extraction technology. The former Hoechst Celanese Inc. received honorable mention in the Kirkpatrick Award for this work in 1991. Sirkar usually works with miniscule membranes, whose openings are often smaller in size than nanometers.
"The basic principles of membrane separation have been known for a long time," said Sirkar. "Intestines in animals and humans are semi-permeable membranes. Early experiments to study the process of separation were performed by chemists using samples of animal membranes."
Today, membrane separation processes depend on the design of the membrane and the membrane module. The size of the membrane pores is often the key to determining which molecular components in either a liquid or gas form will pass through the membrane. Typically molecules flow from a region of high to low concentration.
Pressure or concentration differences on both sides of the membrane cause the actual separation to occur. Membrane separation processes are used in biomedical and biotechnology processes, by the chemical, food, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and in water treatments to separate, purify or concentrate liquid solutions, cellular suspensions or gaseous mixtures.
More recently, Sirkar has turned his attention to developing new and better ways to desalinate water. The membrane distillation process he has been developing has been especially notable because it works with brines holding salt concentrations above 5.5 percent. Currently, 5.5 percent is the highest percentage of salt in brine that is treated commercially using reverse osmosis. "We especially like this new process because we can fuel it with low-grade, inexpensive waste heat," Sirkar said.
The science behind his membrane distillation process is simple. The inexpensive fuel heats the water, forcing it to evaporate from the salt solution. The water vapor then travels through nano-sized pores in the membrane to wind up condensed in the cold water on the membrane's other side.
Sirkar has led membrane separations and biotechnology at NJIT since 1992. He is the author of more than 152 peer-reviewed journal articles. In 2006, he was a recipient of the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award in the Environmental Category from the Research and Development Council of NJ. Other honors include NJIT's Excellence in Research Award for Newark College of Engineering in 2007 and the AIChE Institute Award for Excellence in Industrial Gases Technology in 2005. In 2001, he was named an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers.