How Graphene Can Help Address the Problem of Global Water Stress

OXFORD, Miss., Jan. 24, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Water stress is a growing problem around the world. 

Zisong Nie, co-founder of Tetrels Technology Corp. and a member of the National Graphene Association Advisory Board, and his researchers have been working with graphene to develop more efficient—and cost-effective—sewage treatment systems and water desalination systems that can make ocean water potable. 

In this Q&A, Nie talks about his company and its efforts to ease global water stress with graphene-enhanced technology. 

NGA: Tell us about your background and history in graphene research.

Nie: My relationship with graphene started in 2013 when I came to this country from China to obtain my M.S. degree in nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, I was also working for a UPenn spin-off in Philadelphia called Graphene Frontiers. They were one of the pioneers in the synthesis of graphene by the CVD method and in using graphene materials for biosensor applications.

I worked at Graphene Frontiers as a senior product development engineer and acquired expert-level knowledge on graphene and tons of hands-on experience in dealing with graphene, including material growth, characterization, transfer, biosensor design, and nanofabrication. Then, in 2016, I went to work for Everpower International Holdings, a New York-based investment company, as vice president of business development. My job was to build up relationships with global companies in the graphene industry for potential investment or M&A deals.

NGA: How would you summarize your career so far?

Nie: With my understanding and experience in the graphene industry and my business development skills, I’ve officially engaged with more than 20 companies and closed investment deals with eight companies in a single year, including Haydale in the UK, Grapheneall in South Korea, and Novus and CLB in the USA, to list only a few. In addition, with my background and resources in China, I also helped some graphene companies set up to do business in China with manufacturing, fundraising and building government relations. I flew more than 100,000 miles back and forth last year between the U.S. and China to move things forward.

NGA: So tell us about your newest enterprise?

Nie: In early 2017, My partner, Dr. Kunzhou Li, and I started Tetrels Technology Corp., aimed at commercializing graphene-enhanced water treatment technologies. So far, we have finished pilot scale production in Korea for all of our products, through R&D collaboration with Seoul National University (SNU).

We believe the missing link that stops many graphene products from hitting the market is the problem of tech transfer. So we decided to focus on mass production by integrating our graphene know-how into existing water treatment membrane manufacturing processes. For many graphene technology start-ups, their focus on proof-of-concept makes it difficult to survive because it’s a cash-burning and time-consuming process—and money and time are assets that most start-ups simply don’t have. We believe there’s no point in repeating work that’s supposed to be done in a university lab.

NGA: What kind of success have you had so far in graphene-enhanced water treatment technology?

Nie: With technical support from SNU, Tetrels has successfully integrated graphene into various water treatment membranes to be used in sewage water treatment and seawater desalination, including microfiltration (MF), ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes, and we have demonstrated success in the volume production of these products.

NGA: What kind of difference does graphene make in water treatment membranes?

Nie: Compared with traditional products, graphene-enhanced water treatment membranes could significantly increase the water flux because of the hydrophilic property of graphene oxide (GO). Also, graphene largely enhances the antibacterial performance of membranes so that the lifetime of the product can be doubled. Bacteria can easily attach and grow on the membrane and block the holes on the surface. This is the main reason the membranes should be replaced regularly. And the membrane units are expensive—an 8-inch diameter, 1.5-meter-long UF unit costs over $1,000 and is usually replaced every six months. Graphene-enhanced UF membranes will cut down the operation costs of water treatment systems. And since GO can be manufactured in large batches at low costs from many suppliers, the graphene material only weights 1% to 3% of cost breakdown of our products.

NGA: What’s next for Tetrels?

Nie: With the help of my Chinese background and resources, Tetrels is now working closely with a partner in China that intends to provide us with $15 million in funding for manufacturing in China. We expect the mass production of all the above-mentioned products to launch in China one year from now. In the meantime, Tetrels will further explore U.S. and global markets through our connections in the United States and Europe.

But we’ve never defined Tetrels as just a graphene technology-based company. We will ultimately devote ourselves to providing value-based service that mitigates the inequities and inefficiencies in the world. The only way to truly make a difference with technology is to create solutions that deliver impact to society and nature.

Tetrels started as a water treatment films manufacturer but then positioned itself as a full-service provider of water treatment solutions. Worldwide, some 700 million people don’t have access to enough clean water. In 10 years, that number is expected to explode to 1.8 billion. In many places, squeezing fresh water from the ocean might be the only viable way to increase the supply.

The traditional criticism of reverse-osmosis technology is that it costs too much. Our graphene-enhanced RO membrane dramatically extends the lifetime of RO membranes and notably improves desalination efficiency. Working with charities and NGO organizations, we plan to set up desalination infrastructures in selected regions to address global water stress voluntarily in the future.

To learn more about Tetrels, go to Tetrels

To learn more about NGA and to join, go to

To reach Dr. Zina Jarrahi Cinker, Executive Director, email HERE.

Media inquiries contact Cristen Hemmins, email HERE. cell: (662)801-5357

Photos accompanying this announcement are available:

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