Holt estimates that these membranes could be brought to market within the next five to ten years. “The challenge is to scale up so we can produce usable amounts of these membrane materials for desalination, or gas separation, the other high-impact application for these membranes,” he says, adding that the fabrication process is “inherently scalable.”
Eventually, the membranes could be adapted for a variety of applications, ranging from pharmaceuticals to the food industry, where they could be used to separate sugars, for example, says co-author Olgica Bakajin, a physicist at LLNL. “Practically, the next step is figuring out how to take a general concept and modify it to a specific application,” Bakajin says.
“There are many studies that one can imagine to build upon this study,” says Northwestern’s Ruoff. “Our understanding of molecular processes will be helped by experiments of this type. There are interesting possibilities for nanofluidic applications, such as in nanoelectromechanical systems and in ‘smart’ switching [on and off] of the flow through such small channels.”