Overview of Research Directions
Membrane Systems Research Group @ COMSATS pursues both fundamental and applied research related to the ever growing area of membrane based liquid and gaseous separations. An integrated interdisciplinary research facility on membrane science and technology is established at the Department of Chemical Engineering, COMSATS University Islamabad, Lahore, Pakistan. The group is actively involved to address some of the key issues related to the current energy crisis and environmental degradation. Our mission is to advance knowledge and experience in the area of development and implementation of membrane technology to overcome the current national and global energy crisis and environmental degradation.
Membrane Technology has received significant attention as a sustainable technology for separation of gaseous mixtures due to its several inherent advantages such as low cost, simplicity, high efficiency and low ecological footprint. However, despite all these advantages over other conventional separation processes, the commercialization of membranes for industrial separation processes is rather limited. One of the major reasons is the existence of a trade-off between permeability and selectivity, as shown in the upper bound curves by Robeson. We are working on new membranes based on so-called mixed matrix membranes comprising of novel metal organic frameworks (MOFs), which have among the highest combinations of gas permeability and selectivity. We are also extending the range of applications where such dense and non-porous membranes are used for gas separations to applications such as bio-ethanol and bio-butanol purification.
Seawater desalination for providing safe and clean drinking water is an area of concern in the 21st century. Mixed Matrix Membranes have emerged as a leading technology to solve this issue by providing cheap and environmental friendly solutions. Our group is working on a number of projects to develop novel high flux membranes to provide clean drinking water through desalination. We are extensively using interfacial polymerization and phase inversion techniques to synthesize thin film nanocomposite membranes. We are also extending the work to prepare membranes that are resistant to long-standing issue of fouling and are resistant to chlorine treatments. Structure/property correlations have been developed for a variety of polymers, including uncharged and charged materials. The role of free volume in governing diffusion of solutes through polymers is also being explored.
In the past couple of years, we have expanded our research theme focussing on a number of new applications of membranes such as membrane bioreactors, forward osmosis, membrane distillation, solvent resistant nanofiltration etc.
Our lab has made significant progress both in terms of infrastructure and human resource development and dissemination of research results in the form of high impact factor publications. In the past year, the group has published several articles in the area of membrane separation for energy related applications. At this stage, we can develop membranes for applications such as bio-gas purification, natural gas up gradation, syn-gas processing, pervaporation, bioreactors, desalination, fuel cell membranes and so on.
The research labs established by the group are equipped with state of the art equipment for synthesis, characterization and performance testing of membranes for different applications. At the level of synthesis, the membrane lab is equipped with automated casting device (Doctor's blade) with the provision of casting at different casting speeds. Phase Inversion, interfacial polymerization, solution casting and dip-coating are the major techniques that are being used in the lab for the synthesis of membranes. At the level of application, in-house set-ups for characterization of mixed-gas permeation using an online gas chromatograph enables the researchers to test the membranes in real gas mixtures. We also have custom built cross-flow set-ups for testing the membranes prepared for pervaporation and liquid applications.