Permselectivity limits of biomimetic desalination membranes

Jay Werber, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Water scarcity and inadequate membrane selectivity have spurred interest in biomimetic desalination membranes, in which biological or synthetic water channels are incorporated in an amphiphilic bilayer. As low channel densities (0.1 to 10%) are required for sufficient water permeability, the amphiphilic bilayer matrix will play a critical role in separation performance. We determine selectivity limits for biomimetic membranes by studying the transport behavior of water, neutral solutes, and ions through the bilayers of lipid and block-copolymer vesicles and projecting performance for varying water channel densities. We report that defect-free biomimetic membranes would have water/salt permselectivities ~108-fold greater than current desalination membranes. In contrast, the solubility-based permeability of lipid and block-copolymer bilayers (extending Overton’s rule) will result in poor rejection of hydrophobic solutes. Defect-free biomimetic membranes thus offer great potential for seawater desalination and ultrapure water production, but would perform poorly in wastewater reuse. Potential strategies to limit neutral solute permeation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereaar8266
JournalScience Advances
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 29 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank C. Wilson for assistance with the stopped-flow fluorometer and K. Zhou for assistance with cryo-EM. Funding: We acknowledge support received from the NSF through the Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (EEC-1449500) and via grant CBET 1437630. We also acknowledge the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-1122492) and the Abel Wolman Fellowship from the American Water Works Association awarded to J.R.W.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 The Authors.


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