Scientists backed by a Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) grant have joined forces to develop the next generation of filters. The group’s work in generating polymer materials that act as high-performance gas filters was recently published in Nature Communications. These filters will have the potential to capture carbon dioxide emitted from power stations and, in turn, prevent possible contamination of the environment. Initial findings suggest that it is possible to create membranes that filter a range of substances on a ‘nano’, or microscopic scale.
Filters are a part of our everyday lives, they are utilised in everything from a spaghetti strainer to screens on windows. In their simplest form, filters keep debris out of air and water. Yet as filter technology advances, so does the level of precision around what they can help keep out.
Dr Easan Sivaniah, of Cambridge University, explains the importance of nano-filters, "A membrane is rather like a barrier through which things pass. Depending on the application, it can even filter gases. Gas separation is important, for example, environmentally. If you have oxygen and nitrogen, that’s air, but then typically the things that come out of a power station are nitrogen and carbon dioxide because you’ve burnt all the oxygen up. You’d like to be able to separate the carbon dioxide and capture it, so you don’t emit carbon dioxide."
The process of putting microscopic holes in membranes is complicated and the development of such nano-porous materials depends mainly on exploring the behaviour of polymers. Polymers are used as starting materials for the final, developed membranes. Based on the types of pores created, and their structures, it is then possible to produce the required filters for a specific purpose, such as filtering gases and microscopic particles.
The investigating team of this QNRF-facilitated research is led by Dr Shaheen Al-Muhtaseb, Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering at Qatar University, and Dr Easan Sivaniah, Advanced Research Fellow in the Cavendish Laboratory and soon-to-be associate professor at Kyoto University. The two parties have successfully collaborated on a series of high-impact research observations in the last two years, including widely publicised research in Nature Materials last year, on the discovery of a new nanoporation mechanism called Collective Osmotic Shock.
“The laboratories of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Central Laboratory Unit at Qatar University contain a range of high-tech facilities used to test nano-porous materials. We are working with membranes that both filter and absorb substances. For researching nano-porous materials the facilities at Cambridge and the expertise have proven essential. Not only are the facilities beneficial but also the knowledge transfer on membrane technologies,” elaborates Dr Al-Muhtaseb.
This research has a huge potential impact for Qatar, as one of the world’s biggest natural gas providers and also as a country that relies heavily on desalinated water. Realising its capability to make a difference locally, the team plans to further develop the membrane technology for application in gas and liquid separation throughout a range of sectors, including fuel production and desalination.
“Qatar hosts substantial natural gas processing and petrochemical industries,” says Dr Al-Muhtaseb. “Such industries rely on purification and filtration for optimum performances. With our existing knowledge that such industries produce various gas and liquid waste streams, which contain harmful substances that need to be controlled, the efficient removal of these substances is essential for environmental protection.”
Dr Al-Muhtaseb praised Qatar’s initiative in funding high-impact research, “Qatar is progressively heading toward becoming a regional leader in producing advanced knowledge. This can be seen clearly through the remarkable support provided by Qatar Foundation for various promising initiatives that advance research. The development of these novel and important nano-porous materials is just one example.”
While speaking of other QNRF–funded projects Dr Sivaniah said he is impressed with QNRF and its vision, which is helping shape the development of a research culture in Qatar. “Qatar, as I look at it from the outside, is open, it has funds, and it has the opportunity to grow. We have worked very well with Qatar University in the last few years and I hope we can report even more exciting news in the future, not only in gas separation, but also desalination since these are key areas of interest to the Qatari economy.”
QNRF funds this project through the National Priorities Research Program (NPRP) as part of its aim to develop a local culture to support research that will benefit Qatar, the region, and the world. The NPRP encourages international research collaboration with institutions in Qatar, as in the case of this grant. In order to raise further awareness of these and other opportunities for international collaboration, a QNRF delegation is visiting the UK and Ireland this week to meet leading research institutions and universities.
To learn more about QNRF-funded research projects or to participate in one of QNRF’s programs visit: www.qnrf.org.