Osmosis, from molecular insights to large-scale applications
Osmosis is a universal phenomenon occurring in a broad variety of processes and fields. It is the archetype of entropic forces, both trivial in its fundamental expression – the van 't Hoff perfect gas law – and highly subtle in its physical roots. While osmosis is intimately linked with transport across membranes, it also manifests itself as an interfacial transport phenomenon: the so-called diffusio-osmosis and -phoresis, whose consequences are presently actively explored for example for the manipulation of colloidal suspensions or the development of active colloidal swimmers. Here we give a global and unifying view of the phenomenon of osmosis and its consequences with a multi-disciplinary perspective. Pushing the fundamental understanding of osmosis allows one to propose new perspectives for different fields and we highlight a number of examples along these lines, for example introducing the concepts of osmotic diodes, active separation and far from equilibrium osmosis, raising in turn fundamental questions in the thermodynamics of separation. The applications of osmosis are also obviously considerable and span very diverse fields. Here we discuss a selection of phenomena and applications where osmosis shows great promises: osmotic phenomena in membrane science (with recent developments in separation, desalination, reverse osmosis for water purification thanks in particular to the emergence of new nanomaterials); applications in biology and health (in particular discussing the kidney filtration process); osmosis and energy harvesting (in particular, osmotic power and blue energy as well as capacitive mixing); applications in detergency and cleaning, as well as for oil recovery in porous media.