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Bioinspired, energy efficient filtration mechanism wins TechConnect award

(WASHINGTON) — A Liquid Gated Membranes (LGM)s mechanism, developed by Wyss Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg, was recently recognized at this year’s TechConnect World-National Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., as a 2016 TechConnect National Innovation Awardee. The Wyss Institute team including Director of Platform Development Bob Cunningham, Staff Scientist Mughees Khan and Research Assistant Jack Alvarenga presented the novel filtration mechanism at the event.

The filtration mechanism controls the passage of fluids, gases and particles through membrane pores using a gating liquid to tune and modulate the pores’ opening and closing, mimicking natural systems such as plant stomata which are liquid gated openings that cover leaves and stems allowing the exchange of air, water and microbes between the plant and its environment.

The first part of this animation compares the transmembrane pressure (TMP) between a standard filter and a liquid gated membrane filter (depicted by pressure gauge in bottom right corner). The second part of the animation shows the tendency of each system to clog up due to fouling. The liquid gated membrane filter results in a lower TMP, which increases energy efficiency and reduces fouling, leading to lower maintenance cost and reduced energy consumption. The liquid gated membrane technology also enables multiphase separation and is compatible with standard filtration materials. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

LGMs have the potential to improve performance of filtration systems for many practical applications such as water treatment, bio-fluid processing, crude oil processing or other industrial multiphase separation applications. Despite recent advances, conventional filtration systems offer limited control of complex industrial filter processes. Additionally, standard membrane systems often get clogged during use due to fouling that reduces their energy efficient and necessitates costly maintenance procedures.

Aizenberg’s system can potentially be used to filter and separate a variety of materials because the liquid–filled pores are designed to differentially control the flow of individual components of the feed stream, allowing the LGM to process complex mixtures of liquids, particles and even gases. Matching the gating liquid to the feed stream enables filtration at a lower trans-membrane pressure than a conventional filter of the same pore size. Scaling up the technology to industry requirements will be expedited due to the compatibility of the LGM mechanism with all existing membrane materials. The tunable gating mechanism and reduced fouling attributes could result in more than 50–percent energy savings compared to current methods.

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