The growing demand for potable water calls for low-energy and cost-effective methods for water purification. Inspired by the natural water purification systems of the roots of the mangrove plant and of the human kidney, a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Environmental Research Institute (NERI) has engineered a novel biomimetic membrane that can purify water at low pressure, thus reducing energy costs. This new technology can potentially reduce water purification costs by up to 30 percent, states the NUS news release announcing the advance. The water purification industry today faces a major challenge of high energy costs incurred by current membrane systems to recover water from saline sources. These industrial water purification processes are costly because they require high hydraulic or osmotic pressures to push water molecules to filter through the membrane systems. Led by Associate Professor Tong Yen Wah who is also from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, the team of researchers have designed and fabricated a new aquaporin-incorporated biomimetic membrane water purification and treatment system that is highly efficient. Aquaporins are membrane proteins that selectively conduct water molecules in and out of cells, preventing the passage of ions and other solutes. Aquaporins, also known as the water channels in living cell membranes, have been found to be the functional unit of nature’s water purification systems. These channels, present in all living things from bacteria to mangrove plants to human kidneys, provide nature’s examples of membrane structures that allow high volumes of water molecules to pass through a small surface area at very low pressures, leaving impurities like salt behind.
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