Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ORNL-Led Team Demonstrates Desalination with Nanoporous Graphene Membrane

27.03.2015

Less than 1 percent of Earth’s water is drinkable. Removing salt and other minerals from our biggest available source of water—seawater—may help satisfy a growing global population thirsty for fresh water for drinking, farming, transportation, heating, cooling and industry. But desalination is an energy-intensive process, which concerns those wanting to expand its application.

Now, a team of experimentalists led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has demonstrated an energy-efficient desalination technology that uses a porous membrane made of strong, slim graphene—a carbon honeycomb one atom thick. The results are published in the March 23 advance online issue of Nature Nanotechnology.


Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Dept. of Energy

Researchers created nanopores in graphene (red, and enlarged in the circle to highlight its honeycomb structure) that are stabilized with silicon atoms (yellow) and showed their porous membrane could desalinate seawater. Orange represents a non-graphene residual polymer.

Image credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Dept. of Energy

“Our work is a proof of principle that demonstrates how you can desalinate saltwater using free-standing, porous graphene,” said Shannon Mark Mahurin of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division, who co-led the study with Ivan Vlassiouk in ORNL’s Energy and Transportation Science Division.

“It’s a huge advance,” said Vlassiouk, pointing out a wealth of water travels through the porous graphene membrane. “The flux through the current graphene membranes was at least an order of magnitude higher than [that through] state-of-the-art reverse osmosis polymeric membranes.”

Current methods for purifying water include distillation and reverse osmosis. Distillation, or heating a mixture to extract volatile components that condense, requires a significant amount of energy. Reverse osmosis, a more energy-efficient process that nonetheless requires a fair amount of energy, is the basis for the ORNL technology.

Making pores in the graphene is key. Without these holes, water cannot travel from one side of the membrane to the other. The water molecules are simply too big to fit through graphene’s fine mesh. But poke holes in the mesh that are just the right size, and water molecules can penetrate. Salt ions, in contrast, are larger than water molecules and cannot cross the membrane.

The porous membrane allows osmosis, or passage of a fluid through a semipermeable membrane into a solution in which the solvent is more concentrated. “If you have saltwater on one side of a porous membrane and freshwater on the other, an osmotic pressure tends to bring the water back to the saltwater side. But if you overcome that, and you reverse that, and you push the water from the saltwater side to the freshwater side—that’s the reverse osmosis process,” Mahurin explained.

Today reverse-osmosis filters are typically polymers. A filter is thin and resides on a support. It takes significant pressure to push water from the saltwater side to the freshwater side. “If you can make the membrane more porous and thinner, you can increase the flux through the membrane and reduce the pressure requirements, within limits,” Mahurin said. “That all serves to reduce the amount of energy that it takes to drive the process.”

Graphene to the rescue
Graphene is only one-atom thick, yet flexible and strong. Its mechanical and chemical stabilities make it promising in membranes for separations. A porous graphene membrane could be more permeable than a polymer membrane, so separated water would drive faster through the membrane under the same conditions, the scientists reasoned. “If we can use this single layer of graphene, we could then increase the flux and reduce the membrane area to accomplish that same purification process,” Mahurin said.

To make graphene for the membrane, the researchers flowed methane through a tube furnace at 1,000 degrees C over a copper foil that catalyzed its decomposition into carbon and hydrogen. The chemical vapor deposited carbon atoms that self-assembled into adjoining hexagons to form a sheet one atom thick.

The researchers transferred the graphene membrane to a silicon nitride support with a micrometer-sized hole. Then the team exposed the graphene to an oxygen plasma that knocked carbon atoms out of the graphene’s nanoscale chicken wire lattice to create pores. The longer the graphene membrane was exposed to the plasma, the bigger the pores that formed, and the more made.

The prepared membrane separated two water solutions—salty water on one side, fresh on the other. The silicon nitride chip held the graphene membrane in place while water flowed through it from one chamber to the other. The membrane allowed rapid transport of water through the membrane and rejected nearly 100 percent of the salt ions, e.g., positively charged sodium atoms and negatively charged chloride atoms.

To figure out the best pore size for desalination, the researchers relied on the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL. There, aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) imaging, led by Raymond Unocic, allowed for atom-resolution imaging of graphene, which the scientists used to correlate the porosity of the graphene membrane with transport properties. They determined the optimum pore size for effective desalination was 0.5 to 1 nanometers, Mahurin said.

They also found the optimal density of pores for desalination was one pore for every 100 square nanometers. “The more pores you get, the better, up to a point until you start to degrade any mechanical stability,” Mahurin said.

Vlassiouk said making the porous graphene membranes used in the experiment is viable on an industrial scale, and other methods of production of the pores can be explored. “Various approaches have been tried, including irradiation with electrons and ions, but none of them worked. So far, the oxygen plasma approach worked the best,” he added. He worries more about gremlins that plague today’s reverse osmosis membranes—growths on membrane surfaces that clog them (called “biofouling”) and ensuring the mechanical stability of a membrane under pressure.

Mahurin, Vlassiouk and Sheng Dai, of both ORNL and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, conceived the idea and designed the experiments. Vlassiouk prepared membranes and measured ion transport. Sumedh Surwade of ORNL performed water transport experiments and made pores in graphene. Unocic performed aberration-corrected STEM to reveal atomic structure. Gabriel Veith of ORNL revealed the detailed chemical composition with x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy measurements and analyzed the results. Mahurin, Vlassiouk, Surwade, Dai and Sergei Smirnov of New Mexico State University analyzed the data and interpreted the results.

The title of the paper is “Water Desalination Using Nanoporous Single-Layer Graphene.”

Research was sponsored by ORNL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program. A portion of the work was conducted at the CNMS, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.—by Dawn Levy

Contact Information
Dawn Levy
Communications
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
(865) 576-6448; levyd@ornl.gov

Dawn Levy | newswise
Further information:
http://www.ornl.gov/news

Further reports about: ORNL’s Oak desalination freshwater graphene osmosis pores porous pressure silicon nitride water molecules

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Metal too 'gummy' to cut? Draw on it with a Sharpie or glue stick, science says

19.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events

19.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells

19.07.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>