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Filtering pollutants with nanomembranes

Published 10. Dezember 2014, 15:28 h

Bielefeld University participating in two European research networks 

Bielefeld University’s Faculty of Physics is starting research on nanomembranes in two new projects. Both projects are investigating the use of ultrathin foils as filters. The one project belongs to the European Union’s (EU) flagship research programme on graphene – a flexible and solid material that is only one atom thick. The EU is investing roughly one billion Euros in this flagship project over the next 10 years. The other project is studying the filtering of gases with ultrathin nanomembranes that are very similar to graphene. It is being funded by the ‘M-era.Net’ initiative, a network of partners from 24 European nations and regions.

Die Physiker PD Dr. Andrey Turchanin (links) und Prof. Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser leiten zwei neue Projekte zu Nanomembranen. Foto: Universität Bielefeld
The physicists PD Dr. Andrey Turchanin (left) and Prof. Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser are running two new projects on nanomembranes. Photo: Bielefeld University

Anybody who filters their own coffee knows how long it takes for the coffee to pass through the filter paper – much longer than through a metal sieve. This is because the molecules require more time to travel through the fine pores of the filter paper than through the open holes in a sieve. This simple relationship also holds for a great number of filtering processes in engineering. Most of the membranes used for this are similar to paper filters, and getting the materials through them often requires high pressure and a great deal of energy. Researchers at Bielefeld University are taking a different approach: ‘We want to save energy and material by manufacturing sieves for molecules. We are doing this by modifying very thin materials such as graphene so that it lets through only specific molecules,’ says Professor Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser from the Faculty of Physics.

How can graphene and other thin membranes be used to manufacture efficient filters for molecules? This is what researchers at Bielefeld University are working on in the sub-study of the EU major project on graphene. In this research, the university is cooperating with the University of Ulm, the chemical company BASF in Ludwigshafen, and the nanomembrane manufacturer CNM Technologies in Bielefeld. Privatdozent Dr. Andrey Turchanin and Professor Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser from Bielefeld University are coordinating the sub-study. ‘We want to modify the graphene so that it can be used to filter, for example, oils or water. The challenge is to change the size of the pores, the structure of the material, and the material’s surface so that it will precisely fit each specific application,’ Turchanin explains. Over the next 18 months, the consortium, which is being coordinated by Bielefeld University, will receive about 400,000 Euros for this research. With this new sub-project, Bielefeld University is now involved in both EU flagship programmes – since March 2014, it is also carrying out research in the ‘Human Brain’ project designed to bring together all previous knowledge about the human brain.

Im Juni 2014 titelte das Forschungsmagazin „Advanced Materials“ mit Kohlenstoff-Nanomembranen, die Gas filtern und wies damit auf Forschungsergebnisse aus der Arbeitsgruppe von Prof. Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser hin. Foto: Advanced Materials
In June 2014, the frontispiece of the research journal Advanced Materials featured carbon nanomembranes that filter gas, thereby referring to research findings from Prof. Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser’s team. Photo: Advanced Materials

The second new project in which the Faculty of Physics is involved deals with the filtering of gases. One of the goals of the ‘M-era.Net’ project consortium is to study how to filter out the carbon dioxide from exhaust emissions that is so harmful for the climate. The coordinator of the consortium is Professor Armin Gölzhäuser. In the project, he and his research group want to test carbon nanomembranes as gas filters. In 2013, the research group developed a new procedure for manufacturing such membranes that can also be used to produce nanomembranes that are more than one square meter in size. ‘The possibility of manufacturing such large surfaces also makes our membranes interesting for industry,’ says Gölzhäuser. For the new project, Bielefeld University is cooperating with the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, the Centre de Recherche Public –Gabriel Lippmann in Luxemburg, and the company CNM Technologies. It is receiving 1.5 million Euros over 3 years. Of this, 400,000 Euro go to Bielefeld University. The ‘M-era.Net’ initiative is a European network for research on materials science and engineering. The initiative manages a total of 30 million Euros from 36 public funding organizations and programmes. 

Further information is available online at:
Making the ‘dream material’ graphene fit for industry (01.02.2011):

Process devised for ultrathin carbon membranes (22.08.2013):

Bielefeld researchers develop software for simulating the human brain (01.04.2014): 

Privatdozent Dr. Andrey Turchanin, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Physics
Tel: 0521 106-5376

Prof. Dr. Armin Gölzhäuser, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Physics
Tel: 0521 106-5362

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