SEM membrane

The Centre’s activities are focused on achieving breakthrough new research in separation materials and the science and engineering of these materials.

Research focus

Building on the long established expertise in the area of separation technology at Imperial College London, our researchers develop innovative nanomaterials including porous polymers, metal-organic frameworks, two-dimensional nanomaterials and ceramics. We fabricate these nanomaterials into membranes and adsorbents for applications in industrial separation processes. Research spans across all scales ranging from molecular-level design of these novel materials, understanding the materials structures and separation mechanisms at the molecular level, nanoscale fabrication and control of membrane structure, assembly of membrane modules, and pilot scale manufacturing of membranes and adsorbents. We apply these materials to enable new separation paradigms.

Separation processes consume about 40% of energy used in the refining and petrochemical industries. For phase separation processes such as solids separation, energy consumption is generally low due to the simplicity of the separation. When separation is applied to a molecular level, high energy consumption becomes inevitable. For example, distillation, the most widely employed technique for molecular separation which relies upon repeated evaporation and condensation, is an energy intensive process with thermodynamic efficiency as low as about 10%. Because of the high energy demand, in many industrial sectors, about 40 – 70% of the investment and operating costs arise in separation technology. In this context, membrane and adsorption technologies offer a compelling alternative. Applications for water recovery and environmental protection, energy conversion, fluid separation, food technology, bioprocessing and biomedical devices are already in various stages of industrial development and practice. Further potential application areas for membrane materials and adsorbents are being recognised every day. The entire field is still in its early or mid-stage of development. The potential for further growth is enormous. A central aspect of the development of membranes and adsorbents is the design, synthesis and characterisation of purpose-engineered materials and nanomaterials (e.g. metal-organic frameworks, 2D nanomaterials such as graphene, ceramics, porous polymers).