Imperial College London

Dr Qilei Song

Faculty of EngineeringDepartment of Chemical Engineering




+44 (0)20 7594 Website




ACEX 409AACE ExtensionSouth Kensington Campus






Dr Qilei Song is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London and one of the principal investigators at the Barrer Centre. His research group is focused on the development of functional porous materials and membranes for broad applications in molecular separations, catalysis, and energy conversion and storage. Dr Song received his PhD (2014) at the Cavendish Laboratory in the University of Cambridge, and stayed as a Research Associate before moving to Imperial College as an Imperial College Junior Research Fellow. He has co-authored over 35 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Nature Materials, Nature Energy, Nature Communications, Advanced Materials, Angewandte Chemie, Energy & Environmental Science, Journal of Materials Chemistry, etc. His recent research was awarded the IChemE Nicklin Medal for "his outstanding contribution to developing the next generation of microporous membrane materials, which can be used in energy conversion and storage." He was awarded the prestigious ERC starting grant in 2019, which provides 1.5 million euro to develop new membrane materials for energy conversion and storage. 

Welcome to the group website:


  • 8/2016 -    Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College
  • 2014-2016  Junior Research Fellow, Imperial College London
  • 2013-2014  Research Associate, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge
  • 2010-2014  PhD in Physics, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge
  • 2009-2010  CPGS in Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK
  • 2006-2009  M.Eng in Energy & Environmental Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China
  • 2002-2006  B.Eng in Energy Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China

Recent Research Highlights

A full list of publications can be found at Google Scholar or ResearcherID.

10. Shan Jiang, Qilei Song,* Alan Massey, Samantha Y. Chong, Linjiang Chen, Shijing Sun, Tom Hasell,* Rasmita Raval, Easan Sivaniah, Anthony K. Cheetham, Andrew I. Cooper*, Oriented 2D Porous Organic Cage Crystals, Angew. chem. Int. Ed., accepted, 2017. Doi:

2D cage crystal

9. Ghalei B, Sakurai K, Kinoshita Y, Wakimoto K, Pournaghshband Isfahani A, Song Q, Doitomi K, Furukawa S, Hirao H, Kusuda H, Kitagawa S, Sivaniah E, Enhanced selectivity in mixed matrix membranes for CO2 capture through efficient dispersion of amine-functionalised MOF nanoparticles, Nature Energy. 2017, Advance Online publication. Doi:

Mixed matrix membrane

8. Maria Jimenez-Solomon+Qilei Song+, Kim Jelfs, Marta Munoz-Ibanez, Andrew Livingston*. Polymer nanofilms with enhanced microporosity by interfacial polymerisationNature Materials. 2016. Doi:10.1038/nmat4638. (+Contributed equally).


Image credit to Ella Marushchenko (Table of Contents, Nature Materials).

7. Q. Song, S. Jiang, T. Hasell, M. Liu, S. Sun, A.K. Cheetham, E. Sivaniah, A.I. Cooper. 2015, Advanced Materials, accepted. DOI:10.1002/adma.201505688

In collaboration with the group of Prof. Andy Cooper at Liverpool, we fabricate Porous Organic Cages (POCs), a new class of microporous molecular materials, to thin films and selective molecular sieving membranes.

Porous Organic Cage Thin Films and Membranes

6. Q. Song, S. Cao, R.H. Pritchard, H. Qiblawey, E.M. Terentjev, A.K. Cheetham, and E. Sivaniah. Nanofiller-tuned microporous polymer molecular sieves for energy and environmental processes. Journal of Materials Chemistry A. 2015. DOI: 10.1039/C5TA09060A

PIM-1 nanocomposites

Microporous polymers with molecular sieving properties are promising for a wide range of applications in gas storage, molecular separations, catalysis, and energy storage. In this study, we report highly permeable and selective molecular sieves fabricated from crosslinked polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) incorporated with highly dispersed nanoscale fillers, including nonporous inorganic nanoparticles and microporous metal-organic framework (MOF) nanocrystals. We demonstrate that the combination of covalent crosslinking of microporous polymers via controlled thermal oxidation and tunable incorporation of nanofillers results in high performance membranes with substantially enhanced permeability and molecular sieving selectivity, as demonstrated in separation of gas molecules, for example, air separation (O2/N2), CO2 separation from natural gas (CH4) or flue gas (CO2/N2), and H2 separation from N2 and CH4. After ageing over two years, these nanofiller-tuned molecular sieves became more selective and less permeable but maintained permeability levels that are still two orders of magnitude higher than conventional gas separation membranes.

5. D.H.N. Perera, Q. Song, H. Qiblawey, E. Sivaniah. Regulating the aqueous phase monomer balance for flux improvement in polyamide thin film composite membranes. Journal of Membrane Science. 2015. Link to the paper

Polyamide thin film composite (PA-TFC) membranes are synthesized from interfacial polymerization via the established polymer chemistry (a) as shown in the figure below. The SEM iamges show the morphology of surface (b) and cross-section (c) of ultrathin polyamide thin films supported on polysulfone membranes. 

Polyamide membrane for desalination4. Q. Song, S. Cao, R.H. Pritchard, B. Ghalei, S.A. Al-Muhtaseb, E.M. Terentjev, A.K. Cheetham, and E. Sivaniah. Controlled thermal oxidative crosslinking of polymers of intrinsic microporosity towards tunable molecular sieve membranes. Nature Communications, 2014, 5, 4813. Download PDFLink to full text,  Press (PDFScienceDaily,News in China Media BusinessWeekly (Note: these media coverages are mainly on CO2 capture applications, but actually these novel microporous polymers have great potential for more broad applications beyond gas separations, and our understandings of the materials science are more important.)

Polymer molecular sieves

Microporous materials with well-defined micropore (pore dimensions below 2 nm) structure are attractive next-generation materials for gas sorption, storage, catalysis and molecular level separations. Polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) contain interconnected regions of micropores with high gas permeability but with a level of heterogeneity that compromises their molecular selectivity. Here we report controllable thermal oxidative crosslinking of PIMs by heat treatment in the presence of trace amounts of oxygen. The resulting covalently crosslinked networks are thermally and chemically stable, mechanically flexible and have remarkable selectivity at permeability that is three orders of magnitude higher than commercial polymeric membranes. This study demonstrates that controlled thermochemical reactions can delicately tune the topological structure of channels and pores within microporous polymers and their molecular sieving properties.

A patent (inventors: Q. Song and E. Sivaniah) has been filed based on the work reported in this paper.

3. Q. Song, S. Cao, P. Zavala-Rivera, L.P. Lu, W. Li, Y. Ji, S.A. Al-Muhtaseb, A.K. Cheetham and E. Sivaniah. Photo-oxidative enhancement of polymeric molecular sieve membranes. Nature Communications, 2013, 4, 1918. Download the PDFLink to the paperPress release by University of Cambridge ScienceDaily eurekalert

We report photo-oxidation of membranes made of a polymer of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) and demonstrate how UV light can degrade the polymer while enhancing the selectivity in gas separation. The ultraviolet light field, localized to a near-surface domain, induces reactive ozone that collapses the microporous polymer framework. The rapid, near-surface densification results in asymmetric membranes with a superior selectivity in gas separation while maintaining and apparent permeability that is two orders of magnitude greater than commercially available polymeric membranes. In fact, the gas transport properties need to be considered carefully because the membranes now become heterogeneous composite films. The oxidative chain scission induced by ultraviolet irradiation also indicates the potential application of the polymer in photolithography technology. The key scientific understanding is the oxidative degradation of PIM-1 polymer under irradiation of shortwave-length UV light, which has broad implications on the applications of porous PIM-1 polymers. A further finding not reported in the paper is that similar oxidative degradation can occur directly by ozone treatment, which induces densification at the surface, depending on the diffusion of ozone in the polymer network.  These work were covered in my PhD thesis 'Polymer molecular sieve membranes'.


Story behind the paper....

The photoluminescence of PIM-1 polymer is really cool! The PIM-1 polymer can be excited by UV light and visible light, emitting green light.

Green light from PIM-1 polymer solution excited by visible light

When we synthesized the PIM-1 polymer in early 2011, we were initially interested in the optoelectronic properties. In collaboration with the optoelectronics group in the Cavendish lab (Prof. R.H. Friend group), we fabricated polymer light emittting diodes (PLED) devices and confirmed the electroluminenscence of PIM-1 polymer. However, the performance is not that great, and the science behind this phenomenon were not well understood. It was later known that the inventors of PIM-1 polymer did similar research on PLED when they invented the materials 10 years ago! While I was working on polymer films and membranes, we realized that there are a lot of literature on photoprocessing of polymers in polymer science field and membrane field as well. This leads to our work on understanding the science behind the phenomenon and how the UV/ozone treatment of PIM-1 polymer changed the physical properties, including the gas transport properties. We reported the story in a 3-page conference paper submitted to Euromembrane conference in March 2012, but it took us sometime to understand the mechanism well, therefore the publication of our paper were delayed until 2013. In the end, we have a better understanding of the materials. 

Photoluminescence of PIM-1 polymer solution and films excited by UV light (254 nm) in air

2. Q. Song, S. K. Nataraj, M. V. Roussenova, J. C. Tan, D. J. Hughes, W. Li, P. Bourgoin, M. A. Alam, A. K. Cheetham, S. A. Al-Muhtaseb and E. Sivaniah. Zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF-8) based polymer nanocomposite membranes for gas separation, Energy & Environmental Science, 2012, 5, 8359-8369. Download a PDF copyLink

As-synthesised zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF-8) nanocrystals were dispersed into a polymer matrix forming nanocomposite membranes with enhanced gas permeability.


1. Q. Song, W. Liu, C. D. Bohn, R. N. Harper, E. Sivaniah, S. A. Scott and J. S. Dennis. A high performance oxygen storage material for chemical looping processes with CO2 capture, Energy & Environmental Science, 2013, 6, 288-298. Download a PDF copy. Link

We report a method for preparing of oxygen storage materials from layered double hydroxides(LDHs) precursors and demonstrate their applications in the CLC process. The LDHs precursor enables homogeneous mixing of elements at the molecular level, giving a high degree of dispersion and high-loading of active metal oxide in the support after calcination. Using a Cu-Al LDH precursor as a prototype, we demonstrate that rational design of oxygen storage materials by material chemistry significantly improved the reactivity and stability in the high temperature redox cycles. A representative nanostructured Cu-based oxygen storage material derived from the LDH precursor showed stable gaseous O2release capacity (5 wt%), stable oxygen storage capacity (12 wt%), and stable reaction rates during reversible phase changes between CuO-Cu2O-Cu at high temperatures. We anticipate that the strategy can be extended to manufacture a variety of metal oxidecomposites for applications in novel high temperature looping cycles for clean energy production.


Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Tan R, Wang A, Malpass-Evans R, et al., 2020, Hydrophilic microporous membranes for selective ion separation and flow-battery energy storage, Nature Materials, Vol:19, ISSN:1476-1122, Pages:195-202

Jimenez-Solomon M, Song Q, Jelfs K, et al., 2016, Polymer nanofilms with enhanced microporosity by interfacial polymerisation, Nature Materials, Vol:15, ISSN:1476-4660, Pages:760-767

Song Q, Jiang S, Hasell T, et al., 2016, Porous Organic Cage Thin Films and Molecular-Sieving Membranes, Advanced Materials, Vol:28, ISSN:1521-4095, Pages:2629-2637

Song Q, Cao S, Pritchard RH, et al., 2016, Nanofiller-tuned microporous polymer molecular sieves for energy and environmental processes, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, Vol:4, ISSN:2050-7496, Pages:270-279

Perera DHN, Song Q, Qiblawey H, et al., 2015, Regulating the aqueous phase monomer balance for flux improvement in polyamide thin film composite membranes, Journal of Membrane Science, Vol:487, ISSN:1873-3123

Song Q, Cao S, Pritchard RH, et al., 2014, Controlled thermal oxidative crosslinking of polymers of intrinsic microporosity towards tunable molecular sieve membranes, Nature Communications, Vol:5, ISSN:2041-1723

Song Q, Cao S, Zavala-Rivera P, et al., 2013, Photo-oxidative enhancement of polymeric molecular sieve membranes, Nature Communications, Vol:4, ISSN:2041-1723

Song Q, Liu W, Bohn CD, et al., 2013, A high performance oxygen storage material for chemical looping processes with CO2 capture, Energy & Environmental Science, Vol:6, ISSN:1754-5692, Pages:288-298

Song Q, Nataraj SK, Roussenova MV, et al., 2012, Zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF-8) based polymer nanocomposite membranes for gas separation, Energy & Environmental Science, Vol:5, ISSN:1754-5692, Pages:8359-8369


Song Q, 2015, Crosslinked polymer, method for producing the same, molecular sieve composition and material separation membranes

More Publications