Imagine a mask that could allow a person to breathe the oxygen in the air without the risk of inhaling a toxic gas, bacterium or even a virus. Effectively filtering different kinds of molecules has always been difficult, but a new process by researchers at the University of Rochester may have paved the way to creating a new kind of membrane with pores so fine they can separate a mixture of gases. Industries could use these types of membranes for extracting hydrogen from other gases for fuel cells that will power the next generation of automobiles.
Mathew Yates, assistant professor of chemical engineering, is developing a new way to make molecular sieves-crystals with holes so small that they can discriminate between large and small molecules. Many such crystals exist and are used regularly in industry and laboratories, but Yatess crystals may be able to be properly aligned and brought together into a sheet, which would dramatically expand their possible uses.
Yates has "grown" the new kind of crystals in a solution of water and oil, where droplets of water only a few billionths of an inch wide are dispersed within the oil with the aid of soap-like compounds. Molecular sieve crystals are normally produced in a simple container of water, which is filled with the right ingredients and heated to form crystals, but this produces crystals in a wide variety of sizes that are short and thick and hard to align. Gathering the crystals together with all their pores pointing in the same direction was all but impossible. Yates found that confining the reaction within the small droplets of water dispersed in oil altered the way the crystals grew-long fibers were created with tunnel-like pores.
Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
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