Ultra Low Energy, Low Cost Industrial Nanomembrane Substrate for Desalination, Water Purification, and Remediation.

Period of Performance: 02/21/2017 - 11/20/2017


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

4616 W. Sahara Ave. Ste 562
Las Vegas, NV 89102
Firm POC
Principal Investigator


Supported by DOE and NSF SBIR grants for nanomembrane manufacturing and Quality Assurance, Covalent LLC is developing manufacturing methods for a new class of ultra low energy, single atomic layer nanomembranes for Desalination and water Purification operating at the lowest possible energy (Topic 15A). The completed membranes are expected to reduce desalination energy requirements by 66% over current best practice and drop capital and operating costs approximately 50%, placing desalination costs within the range of current water purification costs. When used for Purification or Remediation, the membranes would preserve electrolytes and remove all undesirable materials, e.g., nitrate, arsenate, pharmaceuticals or unexpected contaminants – e.g., 2013’s West Virginia toxic spill, algal toxins (2014 Toledo, Ohio), or lead (2015 Flint, Michigan) - and reduce energy requirements by up to 99%, while cutting total costs by 30- 90%. The membranes would replace current high-energy/low-yield technologies including reverse osmosis, nanofiltration, ultrafiltration, microfiltration, ultraviolet and other energy-intensive methods for desalination, water purification and wastewater remediation. Desalination’s energy sources are gravity (27” water head pressure) plus a 10oC temperature change to part of the system. Purification uses just gravity (27” water head pressure) to provide unprecedented specificity in high value separations (Topic 15A). Energy savings, higher yields of usable water, and lower costs reflect the membrane’s virtually non-existent tortuosity and extreme thinness. The completed membrane has 3 layers: 1. On top, the Protective layer provides a diffusion barrier to prevent fouling. 2. The Nanomembrane provides selectivity to separate impurities from water. 3. On the bottom, the porous Substrate supports the nanomembrane. This proposal addresses the interface between the atomically-precise nanomembrane (#2) and the external environment during manufacturing and product operation. A challenge in developing atomically-precise materials is how atomically- precise constructs interface with the macroscale world. Here, the substrate (#3), this proposal’s focus, performs that task. Although we resolved the interface issues during Research, this has not yet been scaled up to manufacturing. We propose to: (1) Demonstrate feasibility of our scale-up approach to >7.5million square feet of substrate/ production line/year; (2) Retain the substrate’s functional requirements demonstrated during Research so it provides appropriate macroscale interface without inhibiting the nanomembrane’s energy-savings. While nanomembranes are the completed membrane’s atomically-precise element, the substrate has unusual requirements for a polymeric porous membrane, including: (1) Interfacing to the delicate nanomembrane during production; (2) Being smooth enough to covalently bond to the nanomembrane; (3) Being thin (0.5-2 microns) for water transport kinetics; (4) Being porous, with a relatively high flux; (5) Having straight-through pores, not tortuous; (6) Being thermally and dimensionally stable; (7) Being cost-effective. During Phase 1, Covalent will show that: (1) Appropriate material forms a non-porous 0.5-2 micron film; (2) Polymeric material can be treated to allow nanomembrane deposition; (3) Appropriately-sized pores can be 1) etched in the substrate or 2) self-assembled during substrate formation; (4) Analytical methods can be developed to evaluate substrate consistency. Proving a successful porous substrate manufacturing strategy leads directly to designing a commercially-viable, atomically- precise nanomembrane support. Covalent will carry out all design, build and test functions.