A research team from Cnr-Itm, led by Dr. Gianluca Di Profio and including Dr. Enrica Fontananova, Dr. Adele Brunetti and Dr. Elvira Pantuso, in collaboration with the Smart Materials Lab of the New York University in Abu Dhabi, has developed a conceptually innovative approach to design smart membranes where a dynamic functionality is added to the surface layer of otherwise static membranes by incorporating stimuli-responsive organic crystals.
These innovative membranes demonstrated a gating effect, whereby mechanical instability caused by rapid mechanical response of the crystals to heating slightly above room temperature activates the membrane and effectively removes the foulants, thereby increasing the mass transfer and extending its operational lifetime compared to reference membranes.
The proposed approach allows a pure water flux increase exceeding 40% for optimal crystals loading conditions in saltwater desalination by membrane distillation of hypersaline solutions that are well beyond the salinity operability range of reverse osmosis.
Considering the wide availability of stimuli responsive crystalline materials and the different membrane compositions, the proposed concept, recently published in Nature Communications journal (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-41446-9), sets a platform for the development of a variety of smart, energy-conserving, hybrid separation membranes for water desalination and other separation processes that are devoid of fouling issues and circumvents the necessity of chemical cleaning operations by short-term exposure to the respective stimulus.
Gianluca Di Profio
CNR - Istituto per la tecnologia delle membrane
Via P. Bucci Cubo 17/C, Rende (CS)