Proof-of-Concept for Gas-Entrapping Membranes Derived from Water-Loving SiO2/Si/SiO2 Wafers for Green Desalination (Journal of Visualised Experiments)

by Das, R., Arunachalam, S., Ahmad, Z., Buttner, U., Syed, A. and Mishra, H.*
Year: 2020


Das, R., Arunachalam, S., Ahmad, Z., Manalastas, E., Syed, A., Buttner, U., Mishra, H. Proof-of-Concept for Gas-Entrapping Membranes Derived from Water-Loving SiO2/Si/SiO2 Wafers for Green Desalination. J. Vis. Exp. (157), e60583, doi:10.3791/60583 (2020).


Desalination through direct contact membrane distillation (DCMD) exploits water-repellent membranes to robustly separate counterflowing streams of hot and salty seawater from cold and pure water, thus allowing only pure water vapor to pass through. To achieve this feat, commercial DCMD membranes are derived from or coated with water-repellent perfluorocarbons such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF). However, the use of perfluorocarbons is limiting due to their high cost, non-biodegradability, and vulnerability to harsh operational conditions. Unveiled here is a new class of membranes referred to as gas-entrapping membranes (GEMs) that can robustly entrap air upon immersion in water. GEMs achieve this function by their microstructure rather than their chemical make-up. This work demonstrates a proof-of-concept for GEMs using intrinsically wetting SiO2/Si/SiO2 wafers as the model system; the contact angle of water on SiO2 is θo ≈ 40°. Silica-GEMs had 300 μm-long cylindrical pores whose diameters at the (2 μm-long) inlet and outlet regions were significantly smaller; this geometrically discontinuous structure, with 90° turns at the inlets and outlets, is known as the "reentrant microtexture". The microfabrication protocol for silica-GEMs entails designing, photolithography, chrome sputtering, and isotropic and anisotropic etching. Despite the water loving nature of silica, water does not intrude silica-GEMs on submersion. In fact, they robustly entrap air underwater and keep it intact even after six weeks (>106 seconds). On the other hand, silica membranes with simple cylindrical pores spontaneously imbibe water (< 1 s). These findings highlight the potential of the GEMs architecture for separation processes. While the choice of SiO2/Si/SiO2 wafers for GEMs is limited to demonstrating the proof-of-concept, it is expected that the protocols and concepts presented here will advance the rational design of scalable GEMs using inexpensive common materials for desalination and beyond.


Perfluorocarbon-free membranes Photolithography Reactive-ion etching Contact angles Textured surfaces Wetting