Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Melbourne, Australia (4E) – Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) will make the complex and expensive process of transforming sea water into safe drinking water far simpler and far less expensive.
MOFs are an amazing next generation material with the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water.
A research team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboration with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering function, or “ion selectivity,” of organic cell membranes.
With further development, MOF membranes have significant potential to perform the dual functions of removing salts from seawater and separating metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner, offering a revolutionary new technological approach for the water and mining industries.
Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world’s desalination capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption.
They don’t operate on the principles of dehydration of ions, or selective ion transport in biological channels, and therefore have significant limitations.
In the mining industry, membrane processes are being developed to reduce water pollution, as well as for recovering valuable metals. Lithium-ion batteries are now the most popular power source for mobile electronic devices.
Demand for these batteries is such that future production will likely require lithium production from non-traditional sources, such as recovery from salt water and waste process streams. If economically and technologically feasible, direct extraction and purification of lithium from such a complex liquid system would have profound economic impacts.
We can use our findings to address the challenges of water desalination. Instead of relying on the current costly and energy intensive processes, this research opens up the potential for removing salt ions from water in a far more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable way,” said Monash University Prof. Huanting Wang.
CSIRO’s Dr Anita Hill said the research offers another potential real-world use for the next-generation material.
“The prospect of using MOFs for sustainable water filtration is incredibly exciting from a public good perspective, while delivering a better way of extracting lithium ions to meet global demand could create new industries for Australia,” she said.
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