Cleaning up industrial filtration

Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) spinoff Via Separations addresses the challenges of industrial filtration by utilising a cost-effective and robust membrane made of graphene oxide. Industrial separation is highly energy intensive, accounting for about 22 percent of total in-plant energy use in the United States. Via Separations' membrane can reduce separation-associated energy use by 90 percent.

Industrial emissions was not the initial target application of the innovation, however. In 2012, MIT professor Jeffrey Grossman received a seed fund grant for research on nanoporous membranes in water desalination. As graduate students, Shreya Dave and Brent Keller joined forces in Grossman's lab, fabricating and testing new materials. However, water desalination proved to be the wrong application of the technology for commercialisation. This led the team to examine other opportunities before deciding to target the paper industry, in which the separation process alone accounts for more than two percent of US energy consumption. The project received funding from J-WAFS to explore markets and develop business plans, which supported its pilot launch at a paper company ahead of commercial deployment. "Our goal is eliminating 500 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050," says Shreya.


If you wanted to get pasta out of a pot of water, would you boil off the water, or use a strainer? While home cooks would choose the strainer, many industries continue to use energy-intensive thermal methods of separating out liquids. In some cases, that’s because it’s difficult to make a filtration system for chemical separation, which requires pores small enough to separate atoms.

In other cases, membranes exist to separate liquids, but they are made of fragile polymers, which can break down or gum up in industrial use.

Via Separations, a startup that emerged from MIT in 2017, has set out to address these challenges with a membrane that is cost-effective and robust. Made of graphene oxide (a “cousin” of pencil lead), the membrane can reduce the amount of energy used in industrial separations by 90 percent, according to Shreya Dave PhD ’16, company co-founder and CEO.

MIT News