Deakin Research

Institute for Frontier Materials

New method uncovers highly porous graphene

IFM researchers have developed a new, highly efficient method of preparing porous and reduced graphene oxide.

Putting tiny diagnostics to the test

A portable device that uses 'smart matter' could transform medical diagnosis in developing countries.

Membrane processes and novel separation materials

The research into membranes at IFM has focused on tackling the chronic water shortage in Australia, aiming to develop novel nano-filtration membrane of high efficiency and high selectivity. We started research into new membranes including metallic, organic, inorganic, and composite membranes. The research has been enhanced with the commencement of the Collaborative Research Networks (CRN) program and through collaboration with Victoria University.

Metal membrane fabrication

  • Metal membranes offer great promise in separation due to their high chemical, radiation and mechanical resistance, enabling the purification of complex industrial liquid wastes.
  • The group investigates a number of techniques to fabricate advanced nano-porous and macro-porous metal membranes for use in liquid purification and desalination.

Electroless deposition of metals

  • Electroless deposition onto porous templates is a promising technique for fabricating metal membranes with small pore sizes (< 10 nm).
  • Our group has focused on the electroless deposition of copper, silver and nickel onto commercial membrane templates including nylon, alumina and polycarbonate and their application for micro and ultrafiltration.
An image of Electroless deposition of metals on the surface of poly(carbonate) etched membranes. M

Electroless deposition of metals (here gold) on the surface of poly(carbonate) etched membranes. Metals are being deposited on the surface of the membrane and of its pores to form a semi-dense structure alloying for fine control of both pore size and porosity.

Scanning Electron Micrograph of de-alloyed gold

Scanning Electron Micrograph of a de-alloyed gold - silver ultra-thin leaf (100 nano-meter thick).

De-alloying of metal thin films

Nano-porous gold membranes: commercially available white gold leaves (50Au:50Ag) are de-alloyed to reveal a random network of pores (~ 20 nm in diameter). The de-alloyed gold films are ~100 nm thick allowing for fast transport across the membrane.

Porous copper membranes: Copper/Zinc thin films were also de-alloyed to produce low cost nano-porous membranes. The Zinc metal is preferentially etched away under reducing conditions and solubilized revealing the copper matrix of the alloy.

Sintering and electro-spinning

Nano-porous metal membranes were also prepared from the sintering of mixed metal nano-particles with a sacrificial template leading to highly versatile porosities and pore size distribution. These thin porous layers were then sintered onto thicker metal nano-fibre meshes formed by the reduction of metal salts rich electrospun nano-fibres.


Polymeric membranes

Lyotropic liquid crystals self-assembled membranes

The use of lyotropic liquid crystals (LLC) as a template to form periodic nanostructures in polymer materials is a promising technology with applications in gas and water filtration, biology, and health science. Highly ordered meso-structures can be prepared through block-copolymer self-assembly or in situ co-polymerisation.


Cross section Scanning Electron Micrograph of a composite carbon nanotube metal organic framework membrane.

Cross section scanning electron micrograph of a composite carbon nanotube metal organic framework membrane.

Hybrid membranes

Metal organic frameworks hybrid membranes

The group is also dedicated to the integration and continuous growth of metal organic frameworks (MOFs) into porous nano-structures, including carbon nanotube and metal substrates. This work aims at providing to the fragile and discrete MOFs crystals strong and versatile templates for enhanced gas separation performance.




Graphene and MOF based membranes for water purification

An image of the Surface of a graphene oxide bucky-paper membrane.

Surface of a graphene oxide bucky-paper membrane. The graphene oxide sheets form nano-scale wrinkles on the material surface.

Recently, graphene oxide (GO) membranes have proven to be an excellent material for water filtration. As they are completely impermeable to gases, such as hydrogen, but allow unimpeded permeation of water vapour. However, these membranes are fragile and cracks can be easily developed science GO can readily disperse in water through solvation of surface carboxylic groups. Polymer-based nano-composites are the subject of increased interest in recent decades because of their enhanced properties arising from the reinforcement of fillers. The dispersion of the nano-fillers within the polymer matrix has significant influence on the properties of the composite. In our group, we fabricate GO based composite membranes with excellent mechanical stability, high water flux and salt rejection.

Mixed matrix membranes

The development of synthesis methods for pinhole free, mechanically stable, inorganic-organic hybrid membranes that combine advantages of both inorganic and organic membranes, is attracting a great deal of interest.

We are developing these mixed matrix membranes (MMMs) by mixing different inorganic materials, such as carbon nanotubes, zeolite, graphene and metal-organic frameworks into polysulfones, polyarylates, polycarbonates, poly(arylethers), poly(arylketones) and polyimides for gas separation and water purification. The goal of the project is to design and manufacture MMMs to improve gas or water flux while maintaining other properties.

An image describing Making a mixed matrix membrane using polymer/nano-particle solvent casting.

Making a mixed matrix membrane using polymer/nano-particle solvent casting. Water or gas molecules can diffuse at the interface between the polymer matrix and the nano-particles to give a membrane with enhanced flow properties.

Membrane process development

The group is investigating novel desalination technologies including capacitive deionisation, membrane distillation and membrane evaporation by using advanced functional graphene and metal membranes.

Micro and nano-porous materials characterisation with synchrotron technologies

The team is involved across a number of projects related to a number of Australian Synchrotron beamlines including powder diffraction, X-ray spectroscopy and small/wide angle X-ray scattering (SAXS/WAXS). Recent work demonstrated that SAXS can be used to characterise alignment of nano-particles, pore shape and distribution as well as resolving the diffusion mechanisms across micro-porous materials.

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

23rd January 2014