A 3D nm-thin biomimetic membrane for ultimate molecular separation†
Multi-functional membranes with high permeance and selectivity that can mimic nature's designs have tremendous industrial and bio-medical applications. Here, we report a novel concept of a 3D nanometer (nm)-thin membrane that can overcome the shortcomings of conventional membrane structures. Our 3D membrane is composed of two three-dimensionally interwoven channels that are separated by a continuous nm-thin amorphous TiO2 layer. This 3D architecture dramatically increases the surface area by 6000 times, coupled with an ultra-short diffusion distance through the 2–4 nm-thin selective layer that allows for ultrafast gas and water transport, ∼900 l m−2 h−1 bar−1. The 3D membrane also exhibits a very high ion rejection (R ∼ 100% for potassium ferricyanide) due to the combined size- and charge-based exclusion mechanisms. The combination of high ion rejection and ultrafast permeation makes our 3DM superior to the state-of-the-art high-flux membranes whose performances are limited by the flux-rejection tradeoff. Furthermore, its ultimate Li+ selectivity over polysulfide or gas can potentially solve major technical challenges in energy storage applications, such as lithium–sulfur or lithium–O2 batteries.