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When gas separation membranes are made thinner, they usually allow permeating gases to pass through faster. However, a thinner membrane may be poorer at separating between gas species. Kim et al. (p. 91) examined the permeability and selectivity of layered graphene and graphene oxide membranes. Gas molecules diffuse through defective pores and channels that form between the layers. Controlling these structures tuned the properties of the membranes to allow the extraction of carbon dioxide from other gases. Li et al. (p. 95) describe membranes as thin as 1.8 nanometers made from only two to three layers of graphene oxide. Small defects within the layers allowed hydrogen to pass through, separating it from carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
Ultrathin, molecular-sieving membranes have great potential to realize high-flux, high-selectivity mixture separation at low energy cost. Current microporous membranes [pore size < 1 nanometer (nm)], however, are usually relatively thick. With the use of current membrane materials and techniques, it is difficult to prepare microporous membranes thinner than 20 nm without introducing extra defects. Here, we report ultrathin graphene oxide (GO) membranes, with thickness approaching 1.8 nm, prepared by a facile filtration process. These membranes showed mixture separation selectivities as high as 3400 and 900 for H2/CO2 and H2/N2 mixtures, respectively, through selective structural defects on GO.