Growing applications of membrane processes in water and energy pose new and interesting demands on both membranes and its process design. At Imperial, our research spans from new membrane development to its applications in separation and reaction. We have developed new fabrication techniques for polymeric, ceramic and metallic membranes, especially in hollow fibre/micro-tubular geometry with diameter between 0.5 and 2 mm. These membranes have unique purposely designed wall structures to suit different applications, including filtration, gas separation, emission control and fuel cells.
The designed membranes with the unique wall structures can be further functionalised with advanced nanomaterials or catalysts, and multiple functions can be integrated into one single-step. The functional nanomaterials currently being investigated include graphene, graphene oxide, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), and they can be in the form of thin films deposited on the surface of the membrane support or granules packed in the unique wall structures of the membrane. For example, we have developed micro-tubular graphene oxide thin films to extract water from organic solvents, and a novel adsorption/filtration column containing MOF nanoparticles to get rid of bacteria and heavy metal ions from contaminated water. The micro-tubular or micro-monolithic membranes can also be incorporated with catalysts to construct micro-reactors or fuel cells. Our research on these micro-reactors has been regarded as one of the most important progresses in the field. This presentation will focus on the new membrane fabrication techniques and applications of these purposely designed membranes in separation and reaction.