Meet the Water and Energy Dream Team

The Water-Energy Research Lab (WERL) at Georgia Tech is a new experimental research group in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. Led by Assistant Professor Akanksha Menon, the WERL team implements advances in thermal science and functional materials to develop novel technologies for applications ranging from desalination using hybrid membrane-thermal processes and stimuli-responsive materials, to decarbonized buildings using thermal energy storage and negative emissions materials. The first effort was selected for a seed grant from the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology.

The materials-focused research activities on the water side include the development of polymeric heat transfer surfaces with modified morphology and/or chemistry to inhibit nucleation that are characterized using static and dynamic measurements (goniometer with temperature control), as well as using thermally responsive ionic liquids with tailored absorption properties that harness solar energy for separations.

On the energy side, the team focuses on the development of a thermal battery based on inorganic-organic thermochemical composites and characterizing their reaction enthalpy and hygrothermal stability using a combination of microscale (TGA and DSC) and macroscale (environmental chamber) experiments.

These experimental efforts are complemented with thermodynamic modeling of aqueous solutions to provide insight on and predict the precipitation behavior of multi-component complex solutions, as well as combined heat and mass transfer models that elucidate the effects of diffusion and reaction kinetics. At the system level, modeling efforts include the Integration of solar-thermal energy and renewable electricity to enable sustainable desalination.

A smaller effort in the group is focused on the development of flexible electronics that can achieve active personal thermoregulation and harvest body heat for self-powered devices using thermoelectric semiconductors.

About the PI: Menon is a proud Yellow Jacket (Ph.D. ME 2018). She is back at the Woodruff School after spending three years as a Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, an experience that motivated her to solve grand challenges at the nexus of energy, water, and climate. She was featured by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of their Women in STEM initiative.