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Incorporation of Aquaporins in Membranes for Industrial Applications

Final Report Summary - MEMBAQ (Incorporation of Aquaporins in Membranes for Industrial Applications)

The aquaporins are extremely efficient protein channels that exist in all living cells and transport pure water. The MEMBAQ project aimed to investigate the potential for industrial exploitation of these proteins through the incorporation of recombinant aquaporin molecules in different types of industrial membranes for water filtration. The undertaken research resulted in the development of a novel methodology fir the fabrication of water membranes based on nanobiotechnology.

The pilot membrane systems were planned to be evaluated in three case studies so as to demonstrate the revolutionary industrial breakthrough that occurred in separation and filtration techniques using natural processes. The selected scenarios included water purification, industrial wastewater reclamation and reuse and an ocean energy application.

MEMBAQ was organised in five work packages (WPs) with the following objectives:
1. to produce batches of recombinant plant aquaporins to enable the creation of stable membrane films.
2. to design new nanobiotechnological membrane materials using computer simulations that assisted in optimising membrane films and performing initial characterisation. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of conduction across aquaporin membranes were successfully carried out. Additional simulations were utilised to improve the solutions' permeability, to model tritiated water for effective water flux, to calculate the mechanical properties of lipid bilayers and to evaluate modelling reliability and accuracy.
3. to build aquaporins into a stable membrane film and incorporate this layer into a composite membrane system. The process included visualisation of the channel permeability and measurements of water flux. However, the durability of the products was limited and further research was required after the project completion.
4. to characterise and test the developed membranes in terms of critical parameters such as pressure, temperature, pH, fouling and fouling prevention. Numerous methods were established and implemented during MEMBAQ to enable the characterisation of biomimetic films with embedded aquaporins.
5. to apply test membrane systems in water purification and salinity power production. Nevertheless, the accomplished stage of membranes' fabrication did not allow for the conduction of the planned tests under realistic conditions, due to the limited duration and stability of the product outside the laboratory environment.

MEMBAQ proposed innovative industrial membranes and produced satisfactory results. Even though the initial ambitious goal of testing the product in real life applications was not achieved during the project elaboration time, the attained progress and the verified future market potential confirmed that the goal would be achievable after the conduction of further research to ensure the product stabilisation.

The produced results were patented to allow for future exploitation and to ensure substantial private venture investments. Moreover, the acquired knowledge was disseminated via the project website, the publication of scientific papers and the participation in conferences. Finally, numerous media were interested in presenting MEMBAQ outcomes and promoting their innovative character.

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