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Dr Ozgur Yazaydin    
University College London   
Research Project Grant

Molecular engineering of biomimetic metal-organic framework membranes

Ozgur Yazaydin aims to computationally design and engineer stable, selective and fast water transporting membranes which will lead to extraordinary advances for access to clean water

Setup for non-equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations to quantify permeability.

Setup for non-equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations to quantify permeability.

Access to clean water is one of the major challenges currently facing the world’s population. Around 1.1 billion people are without access to potable drinking water according to data compiled by UNICEF and WHO. Furthermore, available freshwater resources per capita has been in continuous decline as a consequence of rapid global population growth. For water sustainability, more efficient purification methods and diverse water resources are required. Water purification based on thermal processes, such as distillation, are extremely energy intensive since large amounts of heat and cooling are required to evaporate and condense water. Membrane based water purification technology, on the other hand, is advantageous compared to thermal processes because of relatively low energy requirements. Today, the best solution for large-scale water purification relies on membranes that remove salts and contaminants from water with applied pressure. For desalination, in particular, membrane technologies based on reverse or forward osmosis are widely used. Given the scale of its deployed capacity, any advancement in membrane technology, no matter how small it is, could result in significant improvements in the well-being of human population and the reduction of energy costs associated with access to clean water.

Aquaporins are channel-forming membrane proteins with an extraordinary ability to combine high flux and high specificity for water. The physiological importance of aquaporins is apparent by their widespread occurrence in plants, animals, fungi and bacteria. They are active in numerous and diverse physiological functions, including nutrition and signalling. For instance, cell elongation and stomatal movements in plants require rapid translocation of large volumes of water across membranes, which is only possible due to the presence of aquaporins. In our kidneys, aquaporins are responsible for purifying 150 L of water daily, which demonstrates that they are excellent examples of membrane nanopore structures that achieve high water flux and perfect salt rejection with only small pressure gradients.

In this project, by taking inspiration from the aquaporin proteins that are present in living cells, we propose to design membranes that will potentially provide unprecedented water permeabilities leading to transformative advances for access to clean water. We aim to achieve this by designing porous metal-organic framework (MOF) based membranes which will incorporate the mechanism of proteins that facilitates transport of water across cell membranes. 

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