National lab to support ECU team’s desalination system

A wave to water team from East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology has been selected to work with the U.S. Testing Expertise and Access to Marine Energy Research program.

TEAMER’s purpose is to accelerate the viability of marine renewables by providing access to experts in the field as well as lab facilities for testing, which in ECU’s case will be the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colorado.

Students gather around a wave simulator at the Coastal Studies Institute. (Contributed photo)

ECU’s project is a groundbreaking desalination system that aims to use wave and solar energy to produce drinkable water while producing no brine waste discharge that is typically part of the process. It was one of just 23 projects across the country selected.

“This is a very competitive award,” said Dr. Tarek Abdel-Salam, director of ECU’s Center for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering, and the college’s associate dean for research. “Being selected to receive technical and testing support from NREL highlights the quality of research that we do at ECU.”

The team includes Abdel-Salam, Drs. Faete “JT” Filho, Kurabachew Duba and Zhen Zhu from the ECU Department of Engineering, Dr. Mike Muglia from the Coastal Studies Institute, and Dr. Mehran Elahi of Elizabeth City State University. 

“This will allow our faculty to gain experience by being engaged and involved in state-of-the-art research activities on renewable and ocean wave energy,” Abdel-Salam said. “Also, this year we have a team of 12 undergraduate students and four graduate students in the project. The students will be able to gain similar experience by interacting with the top researchers in the field. This will have a great impact on their career success.”

Jason McMorris, a junior engineering major from Apex, is one of the students working on the project.

East Carolina University students Morgan Blanchard, right, and Jason McMorris work in the lab. (ECU photo by Ken Buday)

“It’s a great opportunity to have this, and I feel when it’s time to apply to graduate school, it will help because a lot of people don’t often get opportunities like this,” he said. “I’ve always liked building things, and I think it’s great to build something for the long term.”

Junior engineering major Morgan Blanchard from Raleigh said the project matches his career goals.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with renewable energy,” he said. “With all the nasty things that are out there, I think that’s a big problem. I feel like I can help, and with doing this I’m doing something with my life and making the world better.”

Gabriel Glosson, a junior engineering major from Winterville, didn’t hesitate to be part of the project.

“I took a class with Dr. Filho, and after it was over, he reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in this project,” Glosson said. “I jumped at it right away.”

Filho said zero discharge wave energy-based desalination can be important for coastal areas that face disasters such as hurricanes that could leave municipal water systems inoperable.

“This project will have a strong impact in the blue economy sector and eastern North Carolina, and help create more resilient and sustainable coastal communities,” he said.

Dr. Faete “JT” Filho, right, works with students, from left, Gabriel Glosson, Morgan Blanchard and Jason McMorris in his lab. (ECU photo by Ken Buday)

Filho said the TEAMER award would provide the ECU team with direct access to top experts in the field, close collaboration with NREL researchers and a number of opportunities for students to interact with NREL, which he described as one of the top labs in the country.   

“This will be an outstanding opportunity to advance renewable energy research at ECU and give students a chance to learn, research and help develop innovative technologies.” Filho said. “We expect to continue working with NREL also during testing and prototyping of our desalination system, and help advance this technology to commercialization with the help of industry partners.”

Filho said he knows the award has the potential to have a big effect on not only ECU’s faculty and students, but also the region.

“We are very excited about working with NREL on our innovative technology,” he said. “It is a novel technology with disruptive potential that requires a cross-disciplinary group of experts to help advance from laboratory to commercial application. The team is very excited to be working with them.”