Dec 04, 2019

New Ion-Transport Membrane Technology to Boost Clean Drinking Water

Imperial College London scientists have created a new type of membrane that could boost clean drinking water availability and optimize the use and storage of renewable energy.

new ion-transport membrane technology

Imperial College London scientists have created a new type of ion-transport membrane technology to improve water purification and battery energy storage.

The new ion-transport membrane technology uses low-cost plastic membranes with many tiny hydrophilic pores, according to Imperial College London

The team is led by Imperial College's Dr. Qilei Song and Professor Neil McKeown at the University of Edinburgh. The new membranes were developed using computer simulations to build polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs), reported Imperial College London.

“Our design hails a new generation of membranes for a variety of uses, both improving lives and boosting storage of renewable energy such as solar and wind power, which will help combat climate change,” said Dr. Song

The polymers, made of rigid and twisted backbones, are soluble in common solvents, so they can be cast into super-thin films, reported Imperial College London. The new membranes could be used in a range of separation processes and electrochemical devices that require fast ion transport.

The membranes can also filter out lithium ions from magnesium in saltwater, which could reduce the need for expensive mined lithium, a major source for lithium-ion batteries.

"Such membranes could be used in water nanofiltration systems and produced at a much larger scale to provide drinking water in developing countries," said Dr. Song. "Perhaps now we can get sustainable lithium from seawater or brine reservoirs instead of mining under the ground, which would be less expensive, more environmentally friendly, and help the development of electric vehicles and large-scale renewable energy storage." 

The PIM membranes also show higher molecular selectivity towards ferrocyanide anions, which could lead to longer lifetime of the battery, according to Imperial College London

Since the design principles of the membranes are generic, they can be extended to membranes for industrial separation processes and separators for future generations of batteries and other electrochemical devices.

The researchers will scale up this type of membrane to make filtration membranes, reported Imperial College London. They also intend to commercialize their products.

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