Tech Briefs

Separation technology is at the heart of water purification, sewage treatment, and reclaiming materials, as well as numerous basic industrial processes. Membranes are used to separate out the smallest nanoscale particles, and even molecules and metal ions. A new type of membrane was developed that could extend the life of a separation system, lower its cost, and in some cases, increase its efficiency as well.

The membranes may be produced in different ways, with different materials. They come together in water and contain water as a major component (the membranes are akin to hydrogels). The firstgeneration membranes were made of unique molecules that organize themselves into the membrane material. This property also enables the membrane to be easily recycled, and the particles trapped in the separation process to be reclaimed. The membranes can separate particles based on size, from one to several nanometers.

The second-generation membranes also contain a second self-assembled polymer layer, thus broadening the range of applications for the technology. These new membranes can sustain high pressures, and are capable of purifying water from poisonous heavy metals and organic molecules, showing that self-assembled “aqua materials” can be used for demanding industrial applications.

Unlike conventional materials, the selfassembled membranes can be easily disassembled; this is critical for fighting membrane fouling, which is the biggest challenge in membrane applications.

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