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New method for creating biomimetic membranes offer solutions for energy, desalination and medicine

  • New method for creating biomimetic membranes offer solutions for energy, desalination and medicine

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University of Fribourg
The University of Fribourg is a place where learning, research, employment and events all happen at the same time. Its innovative force makes it an important mover in the commercial and cultural life of the region.

Researchers from the Adolphe Merkle Institute (AMI), together with international collaborators, have pioneered a novel method for creating thin, energy-converting membranes that mimic the structure and function of biological cell membranes. This discovery could have significant applications in fields ranging from implantable artificial electric organs to water desalination.

The new technique leverages the interface of an aqueous two-phase system to form and stabilize these membranes. By carefully controlling the conditions under which two immiscible water-based solutions interact with the opposing sides of these membranes, the researchers created membranes that are just 35 nanometers thick but can cover areas larger than 10 square centimeters without defects.

"This approach takes advantage of favorable interactions to stabilize ultra-thin self-assembled structures that are at least one thousand-fold larger than was previously possible," says Assistant Prof. Alessandro Ianiro, a former group leader in AMI's Biophysics lab.

Self-assembly of BCP bilayers supported by an ATPS. Credit: Nature (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-024-07481-2

The method employs block copolymers (BCPs), highly tunable polymers consisting of two or more distinct polymer segments, to form a bilayer at the interface of the two phases. The resulting membranes exhibit remarkable mechanical properties and self-healing capabilities, making them robust and durable for practical use.

These artificial membranes replicate the selective ion transport functions of natural cell membranes. By incorporating a natural transport peptide, the membranes achieve high ion selectivity, allowing them to generate electric power from solutions of different salts. This functionality is inspired by the electric organs of rays and other electric fish, which use similar principles to generate power.

This development, reported in the journal Nature, could have significant applications in various fields. In energy storage, these membranes could enable the development of large-scale devices to store electrical energy. In water desalination, they may provide highly selective barriers that efficiently separate ions from water.

This development, reported in the journal Nature, could have significant applications in various fields. In energy storage, these membranes could enable the development of large-scale devices to store electrical energy. In water desalination, they may provide highly selective barriers that efficiently separate ions from water.

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