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Novel polymer membranes improve energy technologies

NSF Award:

Block Polymer Routes to Robust Nanostructured Membrane Materials  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

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Water purification, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cell technologies will benefit from innovative, next-generation technologies based on nanostructures. To advance these technologies, University of Minnesota researchers have created novel polymer materials with nanosized pores whose dimensions and surface properties are easily adjusted. 

These nanoporous materials will be useful as membranes for gas separations, catalysts and nanotemplating. The polymer frameworks are robust and the ability to control the size and properties of the pores offers great flexibility for advanced applications. 

Using a mixture of multifunctional starting materials, Marc Hillmyer and his colleagues discovered a new technique for generating robust, porous materials with controlled nanostructures. They used a mixture of multifunctional starting materials, which form very long molecules or polymers in a way that separates them into two distinct phases. The molecules in one of the two phases contain chemical groups that link them together into a tightly woven and robust framework. The molecules in the second phase are designed so that they can be etched away by simply dipping the material into a solvent. This creates nanochannels, while the tightly woven network of the remaining polymer keeps the sample intact during etching. Through judicious choice of the starting materials the researchers can control the resulting pore dimensions as well as the surface properties of the nanochannels. 

The research was published in the journal Science.

Images (1 of )

  • schematic shows the process to create nanochannels
  • nanochannels are visible in the final etched product
Multifunctional starting materials (top left and right) create a robust framework. Dipping the framework into a solvent creates the nanochannels (bottom).
Marc Hillmyer, University of Minnesota
The pores in the final etched product are 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Marc Hillmyer, University of Minnesota

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