Scientists to explore sustainable contaminant removal using bio-inspired membranes

Dec. 11, 2023
A grant from the United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will allow a team of scientists to research the use of molecular selectivity to remove contaminants from water using minimal energy.

Scientists are to explore a more sustainable method of separating contaminants from water, according to a press release from Aston University.

The university received a grant of £165,999 from the United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to research the use of bioinspired membranes to selectively remove contaminants from water, while using minimal energy.

The World Health Organization estimates that microbiologically contaminated water is responsible for almost 500,000 deaths a year and current filtration technologies aren’t effective enough.

The method will use exquisite molecular selectivity, which means that just a single chemical or molecular species will be able to pass through the membrane, allowing scientists to selectively remove a single contaminant from water.

The membranes will be made from plastic but will have transmembrane proteins embedded within them, made possible thanks to new polymers developed by the university.

The transmembrane proteins enable the selective removal of specific contaminants using transport channels measuring approximately 4-10 nanometers — around one million times smaller than an ant.

“Current filtration technologies are ineffective and their manufacture often requires complex and expensive multi-step processes with high associated energy costs,” said Matt Derry, leader of the team of researchers. “We are going to use advanced polymer synthesis to develop new bespoke polymers which will both extract transmembrane proteins and immobilize them within artificial separation membranes.”

The new membrane technology developed in this project will advance and evolve membrane science. The platform materials and approaches used can be applied to other membrane filtration and water purification applications such as selective phosphate removal from agricultural wastewater.

The research will begin in April 2024 and will end in May 2026.


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