Leiden University chemists have created a new carbon membrane that’s only one molecule thick.
According to the Dutch team, the ultrathin membrane is capable of producing a hundred times more power from seawater than the best membranes used today.
When fresh and saltwater meet, an exchange of salt and other particles takes place.
If a membrane is placed in water, it will be able to harness energy from particles moving from one side to the other.
A similar process can also be used to desalinate seawater.
Nevertheless, how much power is generated depends on the thickness of the membrane and how porous it is.
For the record, the carbon-based membrane created by the Leiden team is both porous and thin.
It can also produce a hundred times more energy than classic membranes and all other known prototypes till date.
To create this new membrane, chemists Xue Liu and Grégory Schneider spread a large number of oily molecules on a water surface.
These molecular building blocks then form a thin film on their own. By heating the film, the molecules are locked in place, creating a stable and porous membrane.
According to Liu, the membrane can be adapted for specific requirements:
“The membrane we’ve created is only two nanometres thick and permeable to potassium ions.”
“We can change the properties of the membrane by using a different molecular building block. That way we can adapt it to suit any need.”
Schneider adds that the new membrane combines the best of both worlds:
“Much of the research in this field was focused on creating better catalysts, membranes were somewhat of a dead end.”
“This new discovery opens up whole new possibilities for power generation, desalination and for building much more efficient fuel cells.”
Image and content: Xue Liu/Leiden University