Reverse osmosis (RO) membranes are widely applied for wastewater reclamation and seawater desalination field. However, the energy consumption of this technology is still one of the main concerns. An ultra-permeable membrane, aquaporin biomimetic membrane (ABM) has attracted considerable interest over the past decade.
The ABM is fabricated by incorporating aquaporins (AQPs) into RO membranes. AQPs are biological proteins that form selective natural water channels. They have received increasing attention because of their high water permeability (each water channel can pass ~10^9 water molecules per second) and superior selectivity, i.e. the water channel only allows water passage while fully rejecting solutes. Compared to the conventional RO membranes, the ABM exhibits improved water permeability and salt rejection, and has great potential to reduce energy consumption for wastewater reclamation and brackish water/seawater desalination.
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The aquaporin biomimetic membrane separation is a new concept water purification technology. Its key feature is to utilize a natural separation mechanism owned by aquaporins to purify water resources. For brackish water treatment, the 4-inch ABM module requires only half of the applied pressure to achieve similar water permeability and salt rejection as compared with the commercial RO membrane. By using real secondary wastewater as RO feed under a low applied hydraulic pressure (<60 psi) with periodic cleaning, the recovery of water permeability of the ABM membranes was found to be greater than 90%. The permeate water quality of ABM module meets both NEWater standard and WTO standard.
The aquaporin biomimetic membranes can be applied in the following fields:
Strict environmental regulations attributed to the increased concerns over safe drinking water is the key factor driving the growth of the RO market. Desalination and water purification by reverse osmosis membranes is projected to reach USD 5.00 Billion by 2021, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.75% from 2016 to 2021.
The advantages of ABM over the traditional RO membranes include: low energy consumption, high water production, high solute rejection and the improved quality of the end product. The biomimetic membrane with a high AQP covering density exhibited 40LMH permeate flux at 5bar, almost 200% as much as the flux of a typical commercial RO membrane under low pressure RO test. It also exhibited above 97.5% rejection to a 500ppm NaCl solution. Besides, the ABM possesses a good mechanical, chemical and thermal stability which is comparable to traditional RO membranes, demonstrating the great potential of ABM for various applications.