Manchester scientist develops designer membranes

Sebastian Leaper, winner of the Eli and Brit Harari award
Sebastian Leaper, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, has won the Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award 2016 for his business proposal to develop world changing water filtration technology using graphene.

The £50,000 award which is now in its third year aims to encourage the development of new graphene enterprises from budding entrepreneurs across the University’s undergraduate, postgraduate and post-doctoral researcher communities, as well as recently-graduated alumni of the University.

The prize money will help to fund a new graphene project, which has the potential to revolutionise current desalination methods which are currently costly in terms of energy usage and the need for pre-treatment.

Using a graphene membrane in the desalination process can help improve the process and fine-tuning its properties can overcome some of the challenges associated with desalination as it can allow water to permeate through them with hardly any resistance. This uses less energy and is not susceptible to clogging. Untreated water can also be used in the membrane, making it low maintenance.

By 2025 the UN expects that 14% of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity. This technology has the potential to revolutionise water filtration across the world, in particular in countries which cannot afford large scale desalination plants. This system can be built on smaller scales and is flexible making this technology accessible to countries which do not have the financial infrastructure to fund large plants without compromising the yield of fresh water produced.

“It's crazy to think that in the 21st Century, there are still people who have to walk miles every day for such a basic commodity,” said Leaper, who is currently undertaking his PhD within the Graphene NOWNANO Centre for Doctoral Training. “Graphene has promise to unlock the door to low cost, sustainable desalination technology that can end the global water crisis.”

Leaper will receive continued support to help take the first steps towards realising this project and in September will enrol onto UMIP’s Innovation Optimiser programme.

Professor Luke Georghiou, vice president for research and innovation who led the judging panel said: “Once again we are seeing breakthrough ideas for the commercialisation of graphene coming from our brightest young minds here in Manchester, enabled by the generosity of the Harari Award. It is particularly satisfying to see the potential combination of social good and business opportunity that this year’s winner brings us.”

Tom Austin-Morgan

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