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Research: Oil Separation Eased with 2D Membrane

Monday, March 16, 2020

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Researchers based out of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, Henry Royce Institute and the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester—in collaboration with University College London—have recently found a new method to separate oil and water using a 2D fouling-resistant coating.

The research has since been published in Nature Communications.

The Research

Known as one of the largest problems in membrane technology, membrane fouling is an inevitable occurrence in membrane separation where the pores of a membrane are blocked, halting the flow and disrupting normal membrane. This issue it mostly observed in oil separation technology due to the liquid’s sticky properties.

However, the University of Manchester reports that in increasing a membrane’s water wettability and decreasing the oil adhesion can reduce membrane fouling due to oil deposition. While the scientific community has previously focused on chemically modifying the surface charge of the membrane, the antifouling properties never lasted over a long period of time.

“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,” said Rahul Raveendran Nair, a professor at the University of Manchester.

In searching for a solution to the issue, researchers discovered that in using a form of an exfoliated two-dimensional natural clay mineral, known as vermiculite, a fouling resistant coating for oil-water separation was successful.

The university reports that “wetting the 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.”

Additionally, the research team was also able to demonstrate how the science could exploit an unusual property for membrane fouling reduction during oil-water filtration. To do so, the team used a superhydrophilic lithium exchanged vermiculite (lithium vermiculite) coating for commercial microfiltration membranes.

Kun Huang, the lead author of the research paper adds, “Lithium vermiculite membranes not only provide superhydrophilicity but also repel oil droplets during filtration due to their underwater superoleophobic property. The under-water oil adhesion on vermiculite coated microfiltration membranes was more than 40 times lower than the noncoated membrane.”

Although oil-water separation is just one use of the super-hydrophilic antifouling membranes, the university believes that the application will also be useful in developing self-cleaning surfaces and antifouling filters for biofiltration.

“Our study shows how the atomic-scale details of the interaction between water molecules, surfaces and ions are important for understanding the surface properties of solids,” Patrick Rowe from UCL concluded.


Tagged categories: Coatings; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; EU; Europe; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development

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