The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project is to investigate applications of polymer-free carbon nanotube (CNT) membrane filters. Membranes currently in commercial use are predominantly made of polymer materials but suffer frequently from membrane clogging and surface fouling. The membrane fouling problem is further exacerbated in certain bioprocessing applications. Polymer-free CNT sheet membranes are strong and chemically robust even at extreme temperatures. They resist surface fouling and are uniquely suited for bioprocessing applications such as removing bacteria and viruses from solutions for sterilization; and harvesting cells, vaccines and monoclonal antibodies. Because of these unique properties, polymer-free CNT sheet membranes have the potential to greatly accelerate vaccine development and drastically lower the cost of biopharmaceutical production, making them more available, accessible, and affordable for patients.
This I-Corps project is to explore the translation of polymer-free membranes. Polymer membranes widely in use today suffer from membrane surface fouling, polymer degradation and poor resistance to organic solvents, chemicals and elevated temperature. Although CNT has long been recognized as well suited for this application due to its chemical stability, its hydrophobic nature has hindered efforts to make CNT membrane filters without the use of polymer binders. Available CNT/polymer composite membrane filters do not meet the stringent application requirements, i.e., high flux rate, chemical stability, mechanical stability, and fouling resistance. This technology provides an efficient purification method to render highly uniform CNTs with clean nanotube structure. Such purification is critical for subsequent processes to densify and fortify CNT sheet membranes to produce the desired pore size and mechanical strength in the absence of any polymer binder. This project will investigate the technical specifications of a polymer-free CNT membrane filter for bioprocessing.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.