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Comment Separation Processes

Imitating cactus plants to improve membrane performance

By Paul Grad |

Regulation of water content in polymeric membranes is important in several applications, including proton-exchange fuel cell membranes. Normally, this is achieved either by external regulation or by operating the cells at higher temperatures. Now a team from CSIRO (Melbourne, Australia; www.csiro.au) and Hanyang University (Seoul, South Korea; www.hanyang.ac.kr), led by the university’s professor Young Moo Lee, has developed an alternative solution that does not rely on external regulation of water supply or high temperatures. The team proposed a new concept for regulating membrane hydration in low-humidity or non-humidified environments without modifying the morphology of an ion-exchange membrane, analogous to the water-retention mechanisms of the cactus plant (such as Ferocactus schwarzii). The team explains that the cactus retains water by opening and closing an array of stomatal openings, which respond to environmental conditions. The stomata are open at night, and closed in daytime in hot and arid conditions. In the team’s concept, water content in hydrocarbon polymer membranes is regulated through nanometer-scale cracks in a hydrophobic surface coating. These cracks function as nano-scale valves to retard water desorption…
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