Shane Ardo - School of Physical Sciences

Shane Ardo, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, has been named a Moore Inventor Fellow by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and will receive $825,000 over three years to fund the development of solar-powered desalination technologies to help solve water scarcity problems for nearly a billion people worldwide.

“Imagine if you could dip a plastic bottle in the ocean and have that container take the salt out of the water in front of your eyes,” said Ardo, an expert in solar energy, electrochemistry, physics and materials science. “My lab is on track to perfecting technologies to sustainably and inexpensively desalinate seawater for both personal consumption and agriculture.”

Desalination is seen as one possible solution to the ongoing water crisis confronting the southwestern United States and many other regions of the world. But conventional desalination plants are extremely costly to build; a facility in Southern California that cost more than $1 billion to construct serves less than half a million consumers. Ardo believes the smaller scale and distributed nature of his concept will help people obtain freshwater more readily, more cheaply and with less environmental impact.

Ardo is developing a solar electrodialysis device that could deliver a more than tenfold increase in efficiency over the current process of using grid power to pump water through filters, he said. Scientists in his lab designed specialized polymer plastic membranes with chemically bound, light-absorbing dye molecules. These novel materials directly convert sunlight into ionic power that could be used to drive the desalting process.

Ardo said his project got started with funding from UCI, and the university will continue to provide support, but this new bridge funding from the Moore Foundation will help his lab bring the concept to fruition.

“We are investing in promising scientist-inventor-problem-solvers with a passion for inventing – like Gordon Moore himself,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “By providing support to these early-career researchers, we can give them the freedom to try out new ideas that could make a real and positive difference.”

Ardo is among the first group of five inventors to be awarded this new fellowship. The Moore Foundation plans to invest nearly $34 million over the next 10 years in 50 early-career innovators with high potential to accelerate progress in scientific research, environmental conservation and patient care.

Note: This article originally appeared on UCI News and was produced by UCI Strategic Communications.