Artificial membrane paves way for improved water purification, gas separation

Artificial membrane paves way for improved water purification, gas separation

An international team of researchers have developed a synthetic membrane, which they claim will not only pave way for improved water purification systems, but also help in better gas separation, drug delivery and DNA recognition. Made of lipids, and protein-appended molecules, the membrane is able to transfer water at the rate of natural membranes, and […]

An international team of researchers have developed a synthetic membrane, which they claim will not only pave way for improved water purification systems, but also help in better gas separation, drug delivery and DNA recognition.

Made of lipids, and protein-appended molecules, the membrane is able to transfer water at the rate of natural membranes, and self-assembles into 2-dimensional structures with parallel channels, the researchers say.

Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Penn State and colleagues developed a new synthetic water channel – an improvement over earlier attempts – which is much more stable and easier to manufacture. The peptide-appended pillar[5]arenes (PAP) are also more easily produced and aligned than carbon nanotubes, another material under investigation for membrane separation.

An artificial analogue of the water channel protein, aquaporin, was shown to have permeabilities approaching that of aquaporins and carbon nanotubes. They also arrange in tight two dimensional arrays.   Image: Karl Decker / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Yuexiao Shen / Penn State
An artificial analogue of the water channel protein, aquaporin, was shown to have permeabilities approaching that of aquaporins and carbon nanotubes. They also arrange in tight two dimensional arrays.
Image: Karl Decker / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Yuexiao Shen / Penn State

“We were surprised to see transport rates approaching the ‘holy grail’ number of a billion water molecules per channel per second,” said Kumar. “We also found that these artificial channels like to associate with each other in a membrane to make 2-dimentional arrays with a very high pore density.”

The researchers consider that the PAP membranes are an order of magnitude better than the first-generation artificial water channels reported to date. The propensity for these channels to automatically form densely packed arrays leads to a variety of engineering applications.

“The most obvious use of these channels is perhaps to make highly efficient water purification membranes,” said Kumar.

The findings of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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