In all living cells, channels transporting water - aquaporins - exist. They are proteins, which only transport pure H2O molecules. They have a unique selectivity and are extremely efficient being nature's own membrane systems. The purpose of a new 3-year EU STREP project under FP6 is to investigate how to industrially exploit these unique features: Recombinant aquaporin molecules will be embedded into water filtration membranes. The inventor of the idea is the start-up company Aquaporin ApS. DHI is the co-ordinator of the project among nine European partners, see www.membaq.eu.
Illustration of aquaporin molecules embedded in a membrane (lipid molecules)
Nano-biotechnological research of water transport in various organisms show that aquaporins have 100% selectivity: Only water molecules pass. They also maintain high water permeation rates. Membrane technology is another rapidly developing technology within filtration and separation. Substantial research is done to enhance efficiency of membranes. The MEMBAQ project combines these two research spearheads. This combination has never been done before. A new filtration membrane with aquaporins is in theory up to 50 times more efficient (energy input reduction). It is truly radical innovation of the water industries, for instance for water purification (billions of EUR is spent every year), salinity gradient energy production (exploitable potential is 2000 TWh annually), waste water reclamation (water re-use). The MEMBAQ project will 1) produce recombinant aquaporin, 2) design nanotechnological membrane by means of computer simulation, 3) incorporate aquaporins into stable membranes, 4) engineer membranes based on characterising towards pressure, ph etc., 5) and finally test such membranes in three applications: Water purification, osmotic energy, and waste water reclamation for re-use.
AFM (atomic force microscope) image of aquaporin molecules
In MEMBAQ, real market needs in the water sector are used as a driver for accelerated research and innovation in nanotechnology. Enormous potentials in filtering other fluids and gasses with natural proteins embedded in membranes exist.