Bioethanol is an economical and environmentally-friendly biofuel that has emerged as a sustainable fuel source. Fermentation is an attractive process for producing bioethanol, but requires costly product separation due to the low concentration of the fermentative products. Nanoporous polymer membranes have recently been explored not only in separating water from dissolved solutes in fermentation systems such as this, but also in liquid water purification and desalination. However, attempts at either result in the same problem - current nanoporous polymer membranes do not have well-defined pore pathways or uniform pore sizes on the nanometer level to give clean molecular separations.
A University of Colorado research team led by Richard Noble and Douglas Gin has developed a novel method of creating nanoporous polymer membranes with smaller, uniform, and controllable pathways for light gas/water separation. By post treating QI-phase LLC polymer membranes by way of atomic layer deposition (ALD), for which the coatings are precisely controlled at sub-nanometer thicknesses, researchers were able to deposit ultra-thin ceramic films or ceramic clusters (alumina and titania) inside the porous structure of Q1 LLC membranes. The ALD-modified polymer membranes show great promise in various gas separations, as they have an effective pore size smaller than 0.55nm. This approach also has the potential to modify other nanoporous membranes for size-selective separation.
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