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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R029180/2
Title: System Builders - Device Assembly from Nanoporous Materials Developed from Current Platform Grant (EP/J014974/1)
Principal Investigator: Livingston, Professor A
Other Investigators:
Bismarck, Professor A Li, Professor K
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: School of Engineering & Materials Scienc
Organisation: Queen Mary University of London
Scheme: Platform Grants
Starts: 01 July 2021 Ends: 02 June 2023 Value (£): 524,052
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Separation Processes
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Separations demand more than half of all the capital and operating costs associated with processing industries. This is because separation is often achieved by boiling liquids to make them turn into a gas, or by diluting systems with large volumes of solvents and carrying out differential adsorption in a chromatography systems. These approaches are resource intensive and complex. Membranes might be used to simplify these problems. If a mixture of materials is pressed by pressure against a membrane, and the membrane is permeable to only some of the materials, then we can separate the

molecules that pass through the membrane from those that do not. This uses much less solvents and energy, and is less

complex than alternatives.

Not surprisingly, people have been interested in using membranes to separate and concentrate molecules for some time. A major success is in the area of desalination, where membranes are used to separate fresh water out of seawater. However, membranes are not generally used to separate organic mixtures, like crude oil, into its components, because there were no membranes stable in organic liquids. This has changed recently - research at Imperial College, supported by the platform grant "Molecular Builders: Constructing Nanoporous Materials" has developed membranes that are stable in most solvents, and offer high throughput rates and selectivity between molecules. These have been commercialised through an Imperial spin out company, Membrane Extraction technology, who began production on a small scale. This generated interest from large companies, who saw the potential for widespread use, and MET was acquired by Evonik Industries on 1 March 2010. Evonik MET made a substantial investment in a large scale manufacturing facility in West London, and the UK has become a world leader in the development and manufacture of advanced Organic Solvent Nanofiltration (OSN) membranes.

Now, we need to build on this initial success. We have developed innovative new materials with controlled micro-porous structure that lead to outstanding performance. But we have not yet developed the skills and knowledge to put these into devices and to use these devices in molecular separations that would be applicable in commerce and industry.

For the platform grant renewal period, we will revolutionise the device fabrication and application platforms. We will use the techniques we have created to manufacture composite materials and incorporate these into micro-devices such as columns, monoliths and modules. We will use the these devices to deal with separation problems that current membranes cannot reach, such as synthesis of pharmaceuticals in continuously operating reactors, production of DNA and RNA for therapeutic needs, and the separation of gases.

To succeed in this ambitious goal we will need to train our research team in a diverse range of techniques, most of which we do not have currently. We will do this by working with other research teams at Imperial College and around the world who are experts in the techniques we want to learn, and by hiring new post-docs into our team from these groups, who will speed skills transfer. The synthesis of the new techniques, and their combination with our existing skills, will lead to world beating new science and engineering, and new products manufactured in the UK.
Key Findings
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