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Biomimetic artificial water channel membranes for enhanced desalination


Inspired by biological proteins, artificial water channels (AWCs) can be used to overcome the performances of traditional desalination membranes. Their rational incorporation in composite polyamide provides an example of biomimetic membranes applied under representative reverse osmosis desalination conditions with an intrinsically high water-to-salt permeability ratio. The hybrid polyamide presents larger voids and seamlessly incorporates I–quartet AWCs for highly selective transport of water. These biomimetic membranes can be easily scaled for industrial standards (>m2), provide 99.5% rejection of NaCl or 91.4% rejection of boron, with a water flux of 75 l m−2 h−1 at 65 bar and 35,000 ppm NaCl feed solution, representative of seawater desalination. This flux is more than 75% higher than that observed with current state-of-the-art membranes with equivalent solute rejection, translating into an equivalent reduction of the membrane area for the same water output and a roughly 12% reduction of the required energy for desalination.

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Fig. 1: Membrane preparation and SEM characterization.
Fig. 2: Morphological TEM characterization of the membranes.
Fig. 3: Performance of the membranes in the desalination of seawater and brackish water.
Fig. 4: Application of the membranes in typical seawater desalination operation.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This work was supported by Agence Nationale de la Recherche grant nos. ANR-18-CE06-0004-02, WATERCHANNELS and ERANETMED2-72-357 IDEA. The authors thank D. Cot (University of Montpellier) for SEM experiments, F. Ricceri (Politecnico di Torino) for help with filtration experiments and M. Deleanu (University of Montpellier) for help with the organic synthesis of HC6 and characterization.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.B. conceived the project and designed the experiments. M.D.V. fabricated the membranes, performed IR, EDX characterization and SEM analysis. L.-B.H. performed X-ray powder diffraction analysis. M.D.V. and A.T. designed and performed the filtration experiments. S.P.N. designed and V.-E.M., S.C. and R.S., performed DLS, SAXS and TEM experiments and conducted the experimental analysis. M.B. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mihail Barboiu.

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Competing interests

M.B., M.D.V. and A.T. are inventors on a provisional patent application submitted in 2019 by the SATT AxLR on behalf of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) for the design, synthesis and performances of the membrane materials in this study.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Isabel Escobar, Jun-li Hou and Claus Helix Nielsen for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figs 1–12, Tables 1–8, Methods, discussion and refs. S1 and S2.

Supplementary Video 1

The sum of tilted images of the sample TFC with different angles of TEM tomography.

Supplementary Video 2

The sum of tilted images of the sample TFC–HC6 with different angles of TEM tomography.

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Di Vincenzo, M., Tiraferri, A., Musteata, VE. et al. Biomimetic artificial water channel membranes for enhanced desalination. Nat. Nanotechnol. 16, 190–196 (2021).

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