Multilayer architectures in water purification membranes enable increased water throughput, high filter efficiency, and high molecular loading capacity. However, the preparation of membranes with well-organized multilayer structures, starting from the nanoscale to maximize filtration efficiency, remains a challenge. We report a complete strategy to fully realize a novel biomaterial-based multilayer nanoporous membrane via the integration of computational simulation and experimental fabrication. Our comparative computational simulations, based on coarse-grained models of protein nanofibrils and mineral plates, reveal that the multilayer structure can only form with weak interactions between nanofibrils and mineral plates. We demonstrate experimentally that silk nanofibril (SNF) and hydroxyapatite (HAP) can be used to fabricate highly ordered multilayer membranes with nanoporous features by combining protein self-assembly and in situ biomineralization. The production is optimized to be a simple and highly repeatable process that does not require sophisticated equipment and is suitable for scaled production of low-cost water purification membranes. These membranes not only show ultrafast water penetration but also exhibit broad utility and high efficiency of removal and even reuse (in some cases) of contaminants, including heavy metal ions, dyes, proteins, and other nanoparticles in water. Our biomimetic design and synthesis of these functional SNF/HAP materials have established a paradigm that could lead to the large-scale, low-cost production of multilayer materials with broad spectrum and efficiency for water purification, with applications in wastewater treatment, bio-medicine, food industry, and the life sciences.
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