Groundbreaking study to simplify oil separation using 2D materials

A research team from the University of Manchester have potentially overcome one of the biggest issues in membrane technology, membrane fouling.

Membrane-based separations are current essential in processes such as water filtration and oil and gas separation. The tunability of graphene and other 2D materials in membrane technology make it possible to filter impurities, an act which is previously believed to be impossible.

Membrane fouling is an event in membrane separation where blockages occur in the pores of a membrane, this stops the flow and prevents the membrane from functioning normally. The issue of fouling is especially severe for oil separation technology due to how easily the oil droplets stick onto the membrane surface.

As published in Nature Communications, the research has demonstrated that the 2D form of vermiculite, a natural clay mineral, can be used as a fouling resistant coating for oil-water separation.

Increasing water wettability

Increasing water wettability and decreasing the oil adhesion on a membrane can reduce membrane fouling due to oil deposition. The scientific community has previously focused on tuning the surface charge of the membrane by chemical modification in order to enhance the water wettability and reduce fouling. The attempts have partially been successful, however, long term antifouling properties were yet to be attained.

The team of researchers, based in the University of Manchester’s Department of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science, Henry Royce Institute and the National Graphene Institute in collaboration with University College London (UCL), have discovered that the wetting properties of vermiculite membranes, prepared by stacking many layers of two-dimensional vermiculite sheets, can be tuned from super-hydrophilic to hydrophobic simply by exchanging the cations present on the surface and between the layers of vermiculite.

“Developing antifouling membranes for oil-water separation is a long-sought objective for scientists and technologists, which is evident from the rapid growth in the number of publications in this area, “commented Professor Rahul Raveendran Nair, The University of Manchester.

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