With student academic opportunities and research at the forefront of WEST Center’s mission and success, we kick off a series of spotlight pieces on student achievement at WEST.
In this first piece, Zachary Binger, Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, shares about his work and research at the University of Arizona.
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Interview with featured student
Can you share about your undergraduate studies and what brought you to the University of Arizona?
Yes, I am originally from New Mexico and completed a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque. I explored going into industry right after completing my undergraduate degree, but always had a gut feeling that I wanted to work in the topic of water, with additional interest in renewable energy and sustainability.
I had interviews in the oil and gas industry, with Tesla, and elsewhere, but discovered during my final semesters at UNM that my many different topics of interest came together well at the University of Arizona’s WEST Center. I decided to continue my education in Tucson, and originally planned to focus on bio-fuel research with Dr. Kim Ogden. Given my specific interests, however, Dr. Ogden suggested that I join Dr. Andrea Achilli’s lab group; it has been a great fit.
You are a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, working with Dr. Andrea Achilli. What are your main areas of interest/expertise? Can you share a little about your recent research?
I utilize a combination of commercial tools and my own custom software with the macro goal of developing more efficient membrane systems. Typically, we want to drive the most amount of water across a membrane (maximize water recovery) while minimizing pressure loss and energy use (reduce energy consumption). Models help us adjust inputs and flow to achieve these goals.
Of course, different systems often have slightly different goals. For example, Forward Osmosis (FO) or Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO) systems aim to recover enough water/energy to assist other processes, rather than attempting only to maximize purified water recovery. Given that there aren’t very sophisticated or elegant models built for these systems, I concentrate on developing models that can be used for those approaches. Broadly, I’m working to create a model that incorporates all the necessary factors which can then be adjusted by the user to optimize a system’s performance based on the goals of the application. I build out models at different scales (system, module, and micro), and then combine them to build larger, more realistic, performance models. My focus right now is on developing a more adaptable pressure loss equation by testing different spacer geometries, generated in CAD software, using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations.
A detailed description of Zach Binger’s research is contained in the research summary document below.