Over the past 15 years, Mitra’s research on carbon nanotubes has led to the creation of a novel architecture for the membrane distillation process by immobilizing carbon nanotubes, which are an atom thick and about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair in diameter, in the membrane pores. Mitra’s distillation process runs on energy-efficient fuels such as waste heat, an industrial by-product, and solar energy.
“One of the key characteristics of carbon nanotubes is their capacity to both rapidly absorb water vapor as well as industrial contaminants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and then easily release them,” he notes.
His work on carbon nanotubes has wide-ranging applications in many other areas, such as polymer composites, thin films and nanoelectronics. He developed, for example, flexible, bendable batteries using carbon nanotube composites which can be painted on flexible substrates with an inkjet or screen printer. Through nanotube technology, he has also advanced the development of devices for use in the continuous real-time monitoring of pollutants.
To date, Mitra has been issued 11 patents – five of them related to his carbon nanotube work.
In 2014, he and Zafar Iqbal, a research professor of chemistry and environmental science, won an Edison Patent Award for their technique for preparing carbon nanotubes for use in a variety of practical applications, from water purification to fuel cells. The next year, he was issued a new patent for a carbon nanotube immobilized membrane (CNIM) for desalination applications.