New podcast: Aston University research institute team discuss membrane separations and chocolate boxes

New podcast: Aston University research institute team discuss membrane separations and chocolate boxes

May 22, 20243 min read

  • Aston Institute of Membrane Excellence’s Dr Matt Derry was joined by Dr Alan Goddard and France-based research partner Dr Mona Semsarilar
  • They discussed the BIOMEM project, which received £3m from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder programme
  • BIOMEM will develop a bioinspired membrane to selectively extract compounds from water (like finding a favourite chocolate in a box)

In the latest Aston Institute for Membrane Excellence (AIME) podcast, three researchers discuss the international BIOmimetic selective extraction MEMbranes (BIOMEM) project and how it will feed into AIME’s work.

BIOMEM will develop a bioinspired membrane technology to selectively extract compounds from water, using 50-75% less energy than current state-of-the-art nanofiltration technologies. The membranes will work at low pressures and at low concentration of the target molecule.

Podcast host Dr Matt Derry was joined by fellow AIME researcher Dr Alan Goddard and Dr Mona Semsarilar from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)).

The BIOMEM project, which involves collaborators from across Europe, is being led by Dr Torsten Bak from Danish company Aquaporin, with Dr Goddard the research lead at Aston University.

Dr Goddard explained:

“You might want to work on a biotechnology process where you've made a high value chemical that you want to extract from a complex mix, and at the moment you might have to concentrate your solution up, and you might have to do six or seven filtration steps. We want a filter that does it in a single step using a biological transporter.

“And if you can do that in a single step in a platform technology, you'll make all these brilliant biotech processes more commercialisable, reduce your reliance on petrochemicals, and to maybe oversell what we can do, save the planet.”

Dr Derry likened it to a quick way to find your favourite chocolate in a box at Christmas. Rather than scrabbling through, taking out one type at a time until you find your favourite, the process can immediately separate it out with minimal effort.

Aquaporin has developed a membrane that can selectively transport only water molecules to quickly purify water, which is already in use across the world, and even out of this world, for space missions. Dr Bak and the team will bring their membrane expertise to the project.

The team at CNRS, led by polymer scientist Dr Semsarilar, is working on a number of projects for BIOMEM, including developing a type of crystalline material called trianglamine, which they can modify through chemical processes to be hydrophobic or hydrophilic to make things like water channels or adsorption sites, which can be embedded in polymer network for purification processes.

Other researchers at AIME, including Dr Derry and Professor Paul Topham, will work on the ‘glue’ to stick the biological elements of the membranes to the non-biological polymer matrix.

BIOMEM will also benefit from the input of partners across Europe including dsm-firmenich, University of Copenhagen and Tampere University.

The podcast was recorded just after the project kick-off meeting with all the project partners, which was held at Aston University in May 2024.

Listen to the full podcast on the Aston Originals YouTube page.

Connect with:
  • Dr Matthew Derry
    Dr Matthew Derry Lecturer in Chemistry

    Dr Derry conducts research on block copolymer self-assembly using small-angle X-ray scattering.

  • Dr Alan Goddard
    Dr Alan Goddard Senior Lecturer, School of Biosciences

    Dr Goddard's research interests focus around membrane proteins and the lipid membranes in which they reside.

  • Paul Topham
    Paul Topham Head of School of Infrastructure and Sustainable Engineering

    Professor Topham's research is focussed on sustainable polymer science; making new plastics of the future for a wide range of applications.

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