Vapour permeation measurements with free-standing nanomembranes†
Mass transfer across porous materials with nanoscale thickness is of great interest in terms of both fundamentals of fluid dynamics and practical challenges of membrane separation. In particular, few-atom thick sieves are viewed as attractive candidates to achieve ultimate permeability without compromising membrane selectivity. In this work, we introduce a vacuum system for studying vapour and gas permeation in micrometre-sized samples of suspended nanometre-thick films. Steady-state permeation rates are measured with a mass-spectrometer directly connected to the downstream side of a membrane cell. A built-in nanoaperture is used as a reference to calibrate the detector in situ. A feed compartment is designed in a way that allows for preparing gaseous mixtures of variable composition, including vapours of volatile liquids. Room-temperature measurements with carbon nanomembranes confirm that this material is selective to water vapour and can efficiently separate it from mixtures with a variety of gases and organic compounds. We demonstrate that a high permeance for water is maintained regardless of the molar fraction and discuss its strong pressure dependence by invoking adsorption-related formalism.