Free-standing Inorganic Membranes

A breakthrough in synthesis strategy enables the facile formulation of inorganic membranes that are not just energy-efficient but also highly customisable, potentially revolutionising the way many industries operate for greater sustainability.

Conventional membrane technologies used in purification and separation processes are known to be energy-intensive and therefore expensive, often entailing a combination of pressure, heat, and sometimes chemicals to function effectively. Moreover, the membranes must be regenerated, while the filtered components usually require further treatment after separation, leading to additional energy demands and costs.

Such limitations of traditional membrane technologies served as the impetus for postdoctoral research fellow Dr Zhang Chen in Prof Ho’s team to develop a new synthesis strategy for highly efficient inorganic membranes. Dr Zhang’s method involves taming chaotic, free-floating, inorganic building-blocks in a liquid environment, coaxing them to self-assemble into the desired membrane. This tuneable process provides an effective means to tailor the membrane’s thickness and pore characteristics for specific applications, achieving maximum energy efficiency.

“Our study has also allowed us to take a fresh approach to rethink how inorganic membranes are traditionally developed,” added Dr Zhang.

“Our new technique has the potential to transform industries that heavily rely on membranes for their operation, particularly those related to energy or the environment,” said Prof Ho. “The ability to create freestanding inorganic membranes that are highly selective opens up numerous exciting possibilities for applications in advanced spatial dynamic separation, catalysis, sensors, memories, and ionic conductors, all of which represent unprecedented developments.”

The team’s findings were published in the scientific journal Nature on 29 March 2023.