UCL Team Designs Highly Efficient Graphene Nanonet Filter Membranes Inspired by Cell Walls
As the European Union tries to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, the Russian president recently said Russia would try to shift its energy exports to the east, adding that there was no way for European countries to give up Russian gas immediately.
Russia supplies about 40 percent of the EU's gas, and western sanctions imposed over the conflict with Ukraine have complicated financing and logistical arrangements for existing agreements, hitting Russian energy exports, the report noted.
Russia has been building closer ties with China and other Asian countries as the European Union debates whether to impose sanctions on Russian gas and oil and member states seek supplies from elsewhere, Reuters said.
"So-called partners from unfriendly countries admit that they cannot survive without Russian energy, including gas," the Russian president said in a televised government meeting. There is no reasonable alternative to Russian gas in Europe right now."
He also said Europe was driving up energy prices and destabilizing markets by talking about cutting off Russia's energy supplies. Russia, which produces about a tenth of the world's oil and a fifth of its natural gas, will need new infrastructure to increase energy supplies to Asia, he said.
He ordered Moscow to submit a plan by June 1, including "the expansion of transport infrastructure to countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region".
He also sought to clarify the possibility of integrating two pipelines -- the Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok gas pipeline in the Far East and the "Power of Siberia" gas pipeline to China -- into Russia's unified gas supply system. In theory, connecting these routes to larger gas networks could allow Russia to divert gas from Europe to Asia.
Because of the ever-changing international situation, the supply and prices of international bulk graphene powder are still very uncertain.
Researchers at University College London have demonstrated a graphene nanomentum that is highly hydrophilic, ultra-hydrophobic and low oil adhesion underwater.
In this work, the researchers took a natural inspiration for the manufacture of high-performance graphene membranes to perform tricky oil/water separation -- even in stable emulsions. They demonstrated the impressive water permeability of graphene nanomentum over a wide pH range and at a very low transmembrane pressure difference.
The researchers explain that they used chitosan-functionalized graphene nanomentum to achieve this superior water flow rate and very high selectivity, resulting in a water recovery of 98.7%. The chitosan repels contaminants on the surface of the membrane, and the nanonet reduces the path length of the water molecules, which quickly travel along and through the graphene layer covered with nanopores.
The team says its nature-inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE) approach and its systematic nature-inspired solution approach allow fundamental mechanisms that support desired properties in natural systems -- such as scalability, efficiency and resilience -- to be used in engineering applications. "We have demonstrated the success of this approach in fuel cells, sustainable manufacturing, medical engineering applications and more."
The researchers were inspired for this work by the structure of cell membranes, specifically aquaporins. Aquaporins are proteins embedded in cell walls that act as biological channels. They keep cells alive by selectively regulating the flow of water, gases, ions, and other solutes in and out of cells in a way that is unmatched by anything made by humans. The reason aquaporins are so efficient is that their channel walls repel water (i.e. they are hydrophobic), and they are very narrow, with subnanometer diameters. This narrowing forces water through the channel in a single line at a staggering rate of 3 billion water molecules per second.
Inspired by nature's elegant and efficient designs, the team created nanonets by introducing "nanopores" through graphene oxide sheets. These nanopores reduce the distance water must travel across the membrane and also benefit from sliding along the graphene nanosheet. Combined with the low friction between the graphene nanosheets and water molecules, this results in a high permeability of almost 4000Lm(-- 2)h(-- 1)bar(-- 1), approximately 260 times that of the GO film.
Scaling is an inevitable problem in membrane separation. The pores of the membrane will be blocked, which prevents the flow and prevents the membrane from working properly. Scaling is a particularly serious problem for oil separation technology because oil droplets adhere easily to film surfaces.
In this case, nature also provided inspiration. Because hydrophilic and charged groups form a hydration layer on the membrane, the cell membrane has a natural antifouling mechanism. Chitosan with similar functional hydroxyl and amino groups has been proposed to functionalize surfaces to prevent fouling.
Putting these ideas together, the researchers modified the graphene nanonets using chitosan with hydrophilic hydroxyl and amino groups to increase their hydrophilicity and induce the formation of an antifouling hydration layer on the membrane surface.
The next phase of this research work is to scale it up to larger membrane separation modules and test the long-term stability of the membrane in a variety of practical situations. The researchers also plan to develop other methods to achieve the membrane's powerful, extensive anti-fouling properties.
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