SBIR Phase I: Highly Ordered Membranes for Molecular Separation

Award Information
National Science Foundation
Award Year:
Phase I
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Solicitation Number:
NSF 08-548
Small Business Information
Zeomatrix, LLC
20 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME, 04473
Hubzone Owned:
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator
 Susan MacKay
 (207) 299-3336
Business Contact
 Susan MacKay
Title: DPhil
Phone: (207) 299-3336
Research Institution
This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project investigates the viability of a new method for manufacturing ceramic membranes with highly uniform pores oriented perpendicularly to the membrane surface. These membranes will be designed and optimized to perform molecular separation and purification of chemicals from wood extracts. The ideal membrane for molecular separation must be very thin, have uniform pores which are oriented perpendicularly to the surface of the membrane, have very few defects, and be thermally and chemically stable. There are no commercially available membranes that provide all of these features. The research objectives of this project are to create the first DNA templated ceramic thin film and provide evidence of its structural characteristics. High throughput experimentation will be used to determine the optimum conditions to form the monolayer of uniformly oriented DNA in the presence of sol-gel. The conditions for the polymerization of the sol-gel to form the silica encapsulated DNA on a surface will also be determined. It is anticipated that analytical techniques such as X-ray diffraction, atomic force microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy will confirm the existence of a highly oriented monolayer of silica encapsulated DNA on a surface. These new membranes have significant advantages over existing organic polymer-based membranes. Zeomatrix is targeting the ceramic nanofiltration membrane market. It is estimated that the inorganic membrane market is approximately $375 million per year. The nanofiltration market segment, while smaller than the microfiltration segment, is growing at a rate of roughly 8% per year. The rapid growth of oil costs is expected to dramatically increase the potential market for viable alternatives such as biomass. Potential customers for the first inorganic membrane Zeomatrix will produce are biorefineries which convert woody biomass to sugars, organic acids, and alcohols. Current membrane technologies can separate the sugars from acetic acid and furfurals. However, a new membrane technology is needed which will separate furfural compounds from acetic acid. A great advantage of molecular separation by membranes rather than distillation is lower cost primarily in energy savings. This Phase I project could lead to a new class of membranes that will have applications to other industrial sectors. Specific industries include oil and petrochemical, coal gasification, pulp and paper, and natural gas producers. In each of these industries, membranes which are resistant to corrosion, tolerate high temperatures, and are capable of separations in the 10 to 20 angstrom range are needed.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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