"Our results represent considerable progress toward a device that directly converts sunlight into ionic electricity, which has implications for direct desalination of seawater," says Shane Ardo, UCI assistant professor of chemistry, as well as chemical engineering & materials science. Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 2, 2016 – 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 photodialysis device that could deliver a more than tenfold increase in efficiency over the current state-of-the-art solar desalination technology of using sunlight to directly distill water, 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.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit wp.communications.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.