Many futurists envision a world in which polymer membranes with molecular-sized channels are used to capture carbon, produce solar-based fuels, or desalinating sea water, among many other functions. This will require methods by which such membranes can be readily fabricated in bulk quantities. A technique representing a significant first step down that road has now been successfully demonstrated.
Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have developed a solution-based method for inducing the self-assembly of flexible polymer membranes with highly aligned subnanometer channels. Fully compatible with commercial membrane-fabrication processes, this new technique is believed to be the first example of organic nanotubes fabricated into a functional membrane over macroscopic distances.
"We've used nanotube-forming cyclic peptides and block co-polymers to demonstrate a directed co-assembly technique for fabricating subnanometer porous membranes over macroscopic distances," says Ting Xu, a polymer scientist who led this project. "This technique should enable us to generate porous thin films in the future where the size and shape of the channels can be tailored by the molecular structure of the organic nanotubes."
"The polymer conjugate is the key," Xu says. "It controls the interface between the cyclic peptides and the block copolymers and synchronizes their self-assembly. The result is that nanotube channels only grow within the framework of the polymer membrane. When you can make everything work together this way, the process really becomes very simple."
Xu and her colleagues were able to fabricate subnanometer porous membranes measuring several centimeters across and featuring high-density arrays of channels. The channels were tested via gas transport measurements of carbon dioxide and neopentane. These tests confirmed that permeance was higher for the smaller carbon dioxide molecules than for the larger molecules of neopentane. The next step will be to use this technique to make thicker membranes.
"Theoretically, there are no size limitations for our technique so there should be no problem in making membranes over large area," Xu says. "We're excited because we believe this demonstrates the feasibility of synchronizing multiple self-assembly processes by tailoring secondary interactions between individual components. Our work opens a new avenue to achieving hierarchical structures in a multicomponent system simultaneously, which in turn should help overcome the bottleneck to achieving functional materials using a bottom-up approach." ###
This research was supported by DOE's Office of Science and by the U.S. Army Research Office. Measurements were carried out on beamlines at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source and at the Advanced Photon Source of Argonne National Laboratory.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory managed by the University of California for the DOE Office of Science. Berkeley Lab provides solutions to the world's most urgent scientific challenges including sustainable energy, climate change, human health, and a better understanding of matter and force in the universe. It is a world leader in improving our lives through team science, advanced computing, and innovative technology. Visit our at www.lbl.gov
Contact: Lynn Yarris email@example.com 510-486-5375 DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory