Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Laying down a discerning membrane

04.10.2013
One of the thinnest membranes ever made is also highly discriminating when it comes to the molecules going through it. Engineers at the University of South Carolina have constructed a graphene oxide membrane less than 2 nanometers thick with high permeation selectivity between hydrogen and carbon dioxide gas molecules.

The selectivity is based on molecular size, the team reported in the journal Science. Hydrogen and helium pass relatively easily through the membrane, but carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane permeate much more slowly.

"The hydrogen kinetic diameter is 0.289 nm, and carbon dioxide is 0.33 nm. The difference in size is very small, only 0.04 nm, but the difference in permeation is quite large" said Miao Yu, a chemical engineer in USC's College of Engineering and Computing who led the research team. "The membrane behaves like a sieve. Bigger molecules cannot go through, but smaller molecules can."

In addition to selectivity, what's remarkable about the USC team's result is the quality of the membrane they were able to craft on such a small scale. The membrane is constructed on the surface of a porous aluminum oxide support. Flakes of graphene oxide, with widths on the order of 500 nm but just one carbon atom thick, were deposited on the support to create a circular membrane about 2 square centimeters in area.

The membrane is something of an overlapping mosaic of graphene oxide flakes. It's like covering the surface of a table with playing cards. And doing that on a molecular scale is very hard if you want uniform coverage and no places where you might get "leaks." Gas molecules are looking for holes anywhere they can be found, and in a membrane made up of graphene oxide flakes, there would be two likely places: holes within the flakes, or holes between the flakes.

It's the spaces between flakes that have been a real obstacle to progress in light gas separations. That's why microporous membranes designed to distinguish in this molecular range have typically been very thick. "At least 20 nm, and usually thicker," said Miao. Anything thinner and the gas molecules could readily find their way between non-uniform spaces between flakes.

Miao's team devised a method of preparing a membrane without those "inter-flake" leaks. They dispersed graphene oxide flakes, which are highly heterogeneous mixtures when prepared with current methods, in water and used sonication and centrifugation techniques to prepare a dilute, homogeneous slurry. These flakes were then laid down on the support by simple filtration.

Their thinnest result was a 1.8-nm-thick membrane that only allowed gas molecules to pass through holes in the graphene oxide flakes themselves, the team reported. They found by atomic force microscopy that a single graphene oxide flake had a thickness of approximately 0.7 nm. Thus, the 1.8-nm-thick membrane on aluminum oxide is only a few molecular layers thick, with molecular defects within the graphene oxide that are essentially uniform and just a little too small to let carbon dioxide through easily.

The advance has a range of potential applications. With widespread concerns about carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the efficient separation of carbon dioxide from other gases is a high research priority. Moreover, hydrogen represents an integral commodity in energy systems involving, for example, fuel cells, so purifying it from gas mixtures is also an active area of interest.

Yu also notes that the dimensions of the molecular sieve are on the order of the size of water, so, for example, purifying the copious amounts of tainted water produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is another possibility.

Being able to reduce membrane thickness – and by an order of magnitude – is a big step forward, Yu said. "Having membranes so thin is a big advantage in separation technology," he said. "It represents a completely new type of membrane in the separation sciences."

Steven Powell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.sc.edu

More articles from Process Engineering:

nachricht Adhesive Process Developed for Shingle Cell Technology
09.01.2019 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE

nachricht Seawater turns into freshwater through solar energy: A new low-cost technology
08.01.2019 | Politecnico di Torino

All articles from Process Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

Im Focus: Mission completed – EU partners successfully test new technologies for space robots in Morocco

Just in time for Christmas, a Mars-analogue mission in Morocco, coordinated by the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as part of the SRC project FACILITATORS, has been successfully completed. SRC, the Strategic Research Cluster on Space Robotics Technologies, is a program of the European Union to support research and development in space technologies. From mid-November to mid-December 2018, a team of more than 30 scientists from 11 countries tested technologies for future exploration of Mars and Moon in the desert of the Maghreb state.

Close to the border with Algeria, the Erfoud region in Morocco – known to tourists for its impressive sand dunes – offered ideal conditions for the four-week...

Im Focus: Programming light on a chip

Research opens doors in photonic quantum information processing, optical signal processing and microwave photonics

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a new integrated photonics platform that can...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Velcro for human cells

16.01.2019 | Life Sciences

Kiel physicists discover new effect in the interaction of plasmas with solids

16.01.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

The pace at which the world’s permafrost soils are warming

16.01.2019 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>