Researchers at the University of Bath suggest developments in 3D printing techniques could open the door to the advancement of membrane capabilities.
This work is part of the University’s Centre for Advanced Separations Engineering (CASE) and is the first time the properties of different 3D printing techniques available to membrane fabrication have been assessed.
Wide ranging applications
Membranes are a semi-permeable selective barrier that separate the molecules in a mixture within a gas or liquid into two streams, a key example of this being the separation of salt from water for desalination using reverse osmosis membranes.
3D printing, otherwise known as Additive Manufacturing, has the ability to create almost any geometrically complex shape or feature in a range of materials across different scales. It has applications in various areas including medicine, art, manufacturing and engineering. However, its use in separation membrane engineering is relatively new.
Membranes are currently restricted mainly to tubular/hollow fibre and flat surface configurations due to the limitations of current manufacturing processes. As a result, the precision of present membranes are limited in successfully separating certain properties.
Innovative, more accurate membranes
The use of 3D printing techniques offers novel membrane preparation techniques that are able to produce membranes of different shapes, types and designs, which can be more precisely designed, fabricated and controlled than any other membrane fabrication method currently available.
The paper, which evaluates existing knowledge of the advantages and drawbacks of different 3D printing methods as well as the potential developments of membrane fabrication, identifies a bright future in which 3D printing will enable innovative and far more accurate membranes.
These potential increased capabilities could have significant implications for a number of key industries, including the water industry. New membranes with designer pores and surface shapes that enhance micro-mixing and shear flow across the membrane surface could be used to reduce the energy and down-time associated with cleaning blockages and fouling of the membranes.
Director of the Centre for Advanced Separations Engineering at the University of Bath, Dr Darrell Patterson, commented: “This review is the first to explore the possibility and challenges of using 3D printing for producing separation membranes.
“Although 3D printing technology is not quite well enough developed to yet produce large scale membranes that will be cost competitive with existing products, this work does signal what the future possibilities are with 3D printing, to produce membranes beyond that which are currently available, including controlled complex pore structures, integrated surface patterns and membranes based on nature.”
Lower energy, more sustainable molecular separations
Up to 15 per cent of energy used globally is from the separation and purification of industrial products such as gases, fine chemicals and fresh water. Separation processes also account for 40 to 70 per cent of industry capital and operating costs. Membrane technology potentially offers lower energy, more sustainable molecular separations that can be applied to a wide range of gas and liquid separations. It is therefore a key technology that could be used to help decrease the carbon footprint and costs within industry.
It received its Royal Charter in 1966.
According to 2013 National Student Survey (NSS) the University of Bath was ranked 1st for student satisfaction out of more than 150 UK higher education institutions. In The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2014 the University was awarded the title of “Best Campus University in Britain”.
Bath was awarded the title of ‘University of the Year 2011/12’. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise two thirds of Bath’s individual subject submissions are ranked in the top ten nationally, including over a third in the top five.
The university is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Association of MBAs, the European Quality Improvement System, the European University Association, Universities UK and GW4, a grouping which brings together the South West and Wales’ four leading, research-intensive universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter). Until 30 October 2012, it was also a member of the 1994 Group.
University of Bath research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Smaller, Cheaper Microbial Fuel Cells Turn Urine into Electricity – March 17, 2016
- Global taskforce calls for research into everyday chemicals that may cause cancer – June 29, 2015
- New seismic survey technique could save dolphins’ hearing – December 29, 2014
- Big breakthrough on tiny scale for cancer by scientists at the University of Bath
- New generation laser will herald technological breakthrough
- How well can you see with your ears? Device offers new alternative to blind people
- Is the pixel about to die?
- Swimming Robot Makes Waves At Bath
- Sweet and Biodegradable: Sugar and Cornstarch Make Environmentally Safer Plastics
- Nose scanner identity verification developed
A new compound developed by University of Bath scientists in collaboration with King’s College London offers unprecedented protection against the harmful effects of UVA radiation in sunlight, which include photo-ageing, cell damage and cancer.
Most sunscreens on the market protect well against solar UVB radiation but have limited effectiveness against UVA-induced damage, relying on the reflective properties of creams to defend against dangerous UVA rays.
However this compound, called the ‘mitoiron claw’ by the team, offers strong protection within our cells precisely where the greatest damage from UVA occurs, and doesn’t interfere with rest of the cell.
The researchers from the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at University of Bath, working with colleagues at Kings College London, hope to see the mitoiron claw compound added to sunscreens and skin care products within 3-4 years.
A new design could help produce sustainable energy in developing countries
A new kind of fuel cell that can turn urine into electricity could revolutionize the way we produce bioenergy, particularly in developing countries. The research, published in Electrochimica Acta, describes a new design of microbial fuel cell that’s smaller, cheaper and more powerful than traditional ones.
The world’s supply of fossil fuels is being depleted, and there is increasing pressure to develop new renewable sources of energy. Bioenergy is one such source, and microbial fuel cells can produce it.
In their study, researchers from University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory describe a new design of microbial fuel cell that overcomes two limitations of standard microbial fuel cells: their cost and low power production.
“Microbial fuel cells have real potential to produce renewable bioenergy out of waste matter like urine,” said Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, corresponding author of the study from the University of Bath. “The world produces huge volumes of urine and if we can harness the potential power of that waste using microbial fuel cells, we could revolutionize the way we make electricity.”
Microbial fuel cells are devices that use the natural processes of certain bacteria to turn organic matter into electricity. There are other ways of producing bioenergy, including anaerobic digestion, fermentation and gasification. But microbial fuel cells have the advantage of working at room temperature and pressure. They’re efficient, relatively cheap to run and produce less waste than the other methods.
There are, however, some limitations. Microbial fuel cells can be quite expensive to manufacture. The electrodes are usually made of cost-effective materials, but the cathode often contains platinum to speed up the reactions that create the electricity. Also, microbial fuel cells tend to produce less power than the other methods of bioenergy production.
The new miniature microbial fuel cell uses no expensive materials for the cathode; instead it’s made of carbon cloth and titanium wire. To speed up the reaction and create more power, it uses a catalyst that’s made of glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white. These are typical constituents of food waste.
“We aim to test and prove the use of carbon catalysts derived from various food wastes as a renewable and low-cost alternative to platinum at the cathode,” said corresponding author Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo from the University of Bath.
They then tweaked the design to see what would produce more power. Doubling the length of the electrodes, from 4mm to 8mm, increased the power output tenfold. By stacking up three of the miniature microbial fuel cells, the researchers were able to increase the power tenfold compared to the output of individual cells.
“Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas,” said Jon Chouler, lead author of the study from the University of Bath. “Our new design is cheaper and more powerful than traditional models. Devices like this that can produce electricity from urine could make a real difference by producing sustainable energy from waste.”
“We have shown that the cell design has an incidence on performance and we want to further investigate the relevance of electrode surface area to volume ratio on performance. Our aim is to be able to effectively miniaturize the MFC and scale-up power production by generating compact batteries of multiple miniature units,” added Dr. Di Lorenzo.
Researchers at the University of Bath have developed an innovative miniature fuel cell that can generate electricity from urine, creating an affordable, renewable and carbon-neutral way of generating power.
In the near future this device could provide a means of generating much needed electricity to remote areas at very little cost, each device costs just £1-£2. With growing global pressures to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the associated greenhouse gas emissions, microbial fuel cells could be an exciting alternative.
A microbial fuel cell is a device that uses natural biological processes of ‘electric’ bacteria to turn organic matter, such as urine, into electricity. These fuel cells are efficient and relatively cheap to run, and produce nearly zero waste compared to other methods of electricity generation.
In practice, urine will pass through the microbial fuel cell for the reaction to happen. From here, electricity is generated by the bacteria which can then be stored or used to directly power electrical devices.
The research team from the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemistry and the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT), have worked with Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Bioenergy Centre, to devise this new kind of microbial fuel cell that is smaller, more powerful and cheaper than other similar devices.
This novel fuel cell developed by the researchers, measures one inch squared in size and uses a carbon catalyst at the cathode which is derived from glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white. This biomass-derived catalyst is a renewable and much cheaper alternative to platinum, commonly used in other microbial fuel cells.
The researchers worked on the cell’s design to maximize the power that could be generated. By increasing the cell’s electrodes from 4mm to 8mm, the power output was increased tenfold. Furthermore, by stacking multiple units together, the power was proportionally increased.
Currently, a single microbial fuel cell can generate 2 Watts per cubic metre, enough to power a device such as a mobile phone. Whilst this value is not comparable with other alternative technologies such as hydrogen or solar fuel cells and other methods of bioenergy digesters, the significant advantage of this technology is its extremely cheap production cost and its use of waste as a fuel, a fuel that will never run out and does not produce harmful gasses.
The research team is now looking at ways of improving the power output of the microbial fuel cell and is confident that by optimising the design of the cell, they will be able to increase the cell’s performance.
Lecturer in the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering and corresponding author, Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, said: “If we can harness the potential power of this human waste, we could revolutionise how electricity is generated.
“Microbial fuel cells can play an important role in addressing the triple challenge of finding solutions that support secure, affordable, and environmentally sensitive energy, known as the ‘energy trilemma’.
“There is no single solution to this ‘energy trilemma’ apart from taking full advantage of available indigenous resources, which include urine.”
Lead author and CSCT PhD student, Jon Chouler said: “Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas.
“To have created technology that can potentially transform the lives of poor people who don’t have access to, or cannot afford electricity, is an exciting prospect. I hope this will enable those in need to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of our research.”
Shining lasers at superconductors can make them work at higher temperatures, suggests new findings from an international team of scientists including the University of Bath.
Superconductors are materials that conduct electricity without power loss and produce strong magnetic fields. They are used in medical scanners, super-fast electronic circuits and in Maglev trains which use superconducting magnets to make the train hover above the tracks, eliminating friction.
Currently superconductors only work at very low temperatures, requiring liquid nitrogen or helium to maintain their temperature. Now scientists publishing in the prestigious journal Nature have found a way to make certain materials superconduct at higher temperatures.
Learn more: Scientists create laser-activated superconductor
Fifty chemicals the public are exposed to on a daily basis may trigger cancer when combined, according to new research.
A global taskforce of 174 scientists from leading research centres across 28 countries studied the link between mixtures of commonly encountered chemicals and the development of cancer. The study selected 85 chemicals not considered carcinogenic to humans and found 50 supported key cancer-related mechanisms at exposures found in the environment today.
Longstanding concerns about the combined and additive effects of everyday chemicals prompted the organisation Getting To Know Cancer led by Lowe Leroy from Halifax Nova Scotia, to put the team together – pitching what is known about mixtures against the full spectrum of cancer biology for the first time.
Cancer Biologist Dr Hemad Yasaei from Brunel University London contributed his knowledge regarding genes and molecular changes during cancer development. He said: “This research backs up the idea that chemicals not considered harmful by themselves are combining and accumulating in our bodies to trigger cancer and might lie behind the global cancer epidemic we are witnessing. We urgently need to focus more resources to research the effect of low dose exposure to mixtures of chemicals in the food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink.”
Professor Andrew Ward from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath, who contributed in the area of cancer epigenetics and the environment, said: “A review on this scale, looking at environmental chemicals from the perspective of all the major hallmarks of cancer, is unprecedented”.
Professor Francis Martin from Lancaster University, who contributed to an examination of how such typical environmental exposures influence dysfunctional metabolism in cancer, endorsed this view.
He said: “Despite a rising incidence of many cancers, far too little research has been invested into examining the pivotal role of environmental causative agents. This worldwide team of researchers refocuses our attention on this under-researched area.”
In light of the compelling evidence the taskforce is calling for an increased emphasis on and support for research into low dose exposures to mixtures of environmental chemicals. Current research estimates chemicals could be responsible for as many as one in five cancers. With the human population routinely exposed to thousands of chemicals, the effects need to be better understood to reduce the incidence of cancer globally.
New technology revolutionising seismic imaging of underground geology could also reduce impact on marine wildlife.
Conventional seismic imaging transmits sound energy into the ground and builds a picture of the underlying geology by analysing how the energy waves are reflected back to the receiver.
In contrast, a new technology called Acoustic Zoom, developed by University of Bath alumnus Professor Jaques Guigné in collaboration with his former PhD supervisor Professor Nick Pace, suppresses the reflected energy signal and instead records how the sound energy is scattered; data that is normally discarded but still holds important information.
This scattered sound data is used to create a highly detailed map of the underground geology, enabling subtle details such as fissures and fractures in the strata to be seen that can’t be detected using traditional seismic surveying.
Conventional seismic techniques create a series of loud bangs that can disturb marine wildlife, affecting their behaviour and migration habits. The University of Bath is already active in monitoring and reducing these impacts.
The Acoustic Zoom technology goes further by reducing the original energy, using a ‘marine trombone’ that can be adjusted to release smaller levels of energy at much higher frequencies, which reduces the effects on underwater animals.
Professor Guigné explained: “We’re really excited about this technology because it allows us to take virtual core samples, giving us a much more detailed understanding of subtle geological features, without any drilling.
“It works by analysing the scattered sound energy rather than the reflected energy that is normally recorded. The scattered signal is a lot weaker so it’s been quite tricky to do successfully.
“It’s a bit like driving at night trying to focus on the face of the driver of an oncoming car through the glare of their headlights.
“Acoustic Zoom is also gentler on the environment because it releases smaller amounts of energy over a longer time and at higher frequencies, so although marine life can still hear the sound waves, they are much less intrusive.
“We hope this new technology will help avoid unnecessary exploratory drilling by the oil industry and also reduce the impact of underwater surveys on the environment.”
Take me to the story: New seismic survey technique could save dolphins’ hearing