Development of Highly-Efficient Aquaporin-Based Water Treatment Membranes for Desalination and Contaminant Removal

EPA Grant Number: FP916957
Title: Development of Highly-Efficient Aquaporin-Based Water Treatment Membranes for Desalination and Contaminant Removal
Investigators: Kumar, Manish
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2008 through August 31, 2011
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


We are faced with scarcity of fresh water sources in many parts of the world. This is further complicated by contamination of existing freshwater supplies and the discovery of emerging pollutants. The research goal of this project is to develop a sustainable low energy membrane technology for treatment of impaired and contaminated water sources. It is based on the hypothesis is that such a technology can be developed using membrane processes inspired by biological membranes. Several biological membranes have proteins called Aquaporins that can transport water at rates far exceeding what can be achieved with synthetic membrane technology. In this project we will focus on incorporation of the bacterial aquaporin –Aquaporin Z (AqpZ) into synthetic membranes to develop efficient desalination membranes.


Aquaporins and other membrane-spanning proteins are stabilized in biological lipid membranes due to the unique amphiphilic structure (comprising both hydrophilic and hydrophobic groups) of the lipids and protein molecules. In this project a synthetic block copolymer that mimics this arrangement is used to provide a surrogate for the lipid molecules to form synthetic membranes. This tri-block copolymer is a symmetric polymer with poly-(2- methyloxazoline)-poly (dimethylsiloxane)-poly (2-methyloxazoline) (PMOXA-PDMS) blocks. PMOXA is the hydrophilic A block and PDMS is the hydrophobic B block. The polymer is arranged in a symmetric ABA arrangement to form an amphiphilic polymer. These membranes, self assembled in aqueous solutions will be characterized structurally using microscopic techniques such as Transmission Electron Microscopy, Atomic Force Microscopy and its permeability and selectivity studied using lab filtration experiments.

Expected Results:

As an outcome of this project data on the applicability of protein polymer membranes for application to water desalination will be obtained. This will provide information on the stability and permeability of these membranes under simulated desalination conditions. The structure and arrangement of proteins in a synthetic biomimetic polymer system will also be obtained.

Supplemental Keywords:

Biomimetic membranes, desalination, Aquaporins, triblock copolymers, self assembly, transmembrane proteins,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2009
  • 2010
  • Final