New membrane generates electricity while filtering wastewater

The membrane can generate continuous electricity for over 3 hours with only 10 microliters of water.
Sejal Sharma
A depiction of how the membrane works.
A depiction of how the membrane works.

KIST-Myongji University 

What if your water filter machine at home could produce electricity and filter out a clean glass of water for you to drink? At the same time.

This may be a possibility in the near future, according to a team of researchers in South Korea

Scientists from Myongji University have developed an advanced multifunctional water purification membrane that not only purifies polluted water but also simultaneously generates electricity.

But how does it work?

This dual Electricity Generation and Purification Membrane (EPM) is composed of a porous filter at the bottom, which removes unwanted material and desilts the water passing through. And at the top, there is a conductive polymer that generates energy. 

New membrane generates electricity while filtering wastewater
An illustration of the electricity generation & water purification process.

As the polluted water, such as rain, seawater, groundwater, river water, sewage, and wastewater passes through this sandwiched membrane, electricity is produced at the top in the horizontal direction by the movement of ions, while the bottom membrane simultaneously purifies the water in the perpendicular direction. 

The scientists claim that the membrane can reject over 90% of the pollutants less than 10 nm (one hundred-millionth of a meter) in size, like microplastics and highly toxic heavy metal particles like arsenic, lead, cobalt, zinc, etc., which are undetectable to the eye.

Cost-effective and energy efficient

While the icing on the cake is the added benefit of electricity production, the cherry on top is its low manufacturing cost. Produced using a simple printing process, this is a cost-effective technology that has the potential to be commercialized at a greater scale. 

As per the announcement on the website of Korea Institute of Science & Technology (KIST), the researchers claim that the membrane can provide continuous electricity generation for over three hours with only 10 µl (microliter) of water. This new model can be potentially used in developing the next-generation technologies of renewable energy generation.

Currently, the team of scientists is working on upscaling the current model to an improved one which can provide clean drinking water. As the world inches more and more toward renewable and environment-friendly technology, this could potentially open the door for further development in water purification and membrane technology.

Dr. Ji-Soo Jang, lead researcher and senior research scientist at the Korea Institute of Science & Technology, said, "As a novel technology that can solve water shortage problem and produce eco-friendly energy simultaneously, it also has great potential applications in the water quality management system and emergency power system."

This research was conducted as a major project of KIST with the support of South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT (Minister Jong-Ho Lee). The membrane has been jointly developed by a team from the Electronic Materials Research Center at KIST and a team from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, at Myongji University.

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