When listening to a biologist and an engineer discussing membranes, the engineer describes many concepts that are completely unknown to biologists. Biological membranes are not backflushed or chemically treated to clean them. Trees move huge volumes of water without high-pressure pumps. Biologists have never heard of concentration polarization. There are entire classes of problems which burden engineers because ceramic and polymeric membranes bear no resemblance to biological membranes and biological filtration. By using a biomimetic strategy of identifying Nature’s methods and incorporating many of them into the Agua Via membranes, the innate problems of crude membranes evaporate.
There are some adjustments needed to standard expectations. Technically, the one-atomic-layer thick pores are actually orifices, with no “middle” in which salts, debris or foulants can build up. A molecule is either on one side of the pore .... or on the other side. Unlike the long pathways in a polymeric membrane which can become clogged and require backflushing, there is no “middle” or pathway in the Agua Via membrane which needs cleaning. A contaminant that the pore will not pass may attempt unsuccessfully to enter the pore, but kinetics will then move it away in the feedstock crossflow.
Another point of impact regards bulk flow equations. Standard bulk flow calculations take into account pore length, measured in a fraction of meter. The calculations also incorporate how tortuous the path is. But a single-atomic-layer pore is no tortuousity at all – zero – and zero pore length. Now the calculations say, “flow is infinite.” Of course, this is not and cannot be true in reality. But it does mean that the old standard calculations or rules of thumb need some adjustment when dealing with these enhanced, and biologically-based membranes.
By using biomimicry to import Nature’s techniques into materials, the burdens imposed on engineers by conventional membranes either disappear or can be strongly abated. New levels of performance can be achieved.
At present, there are only a handful of people who are fluent in both fields. Two examples are Chemistry Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, the father of genetic engineering and who also did developmental desalination work with the US Office of Naval Research, or Dr. William Deen of MIT who specializes in both human kidney function and polymeric membranes. We look forward to seeing the club grow.