Outperforming nature's membranes

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Science  19 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6241, pp. 1317-1318
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3727

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Industrial chemical reactions or biosynthetic processes rarely yield pure products, and the additional separation steps typically required often make up the largest part of the product cost. Membrane separations are considered among the most efficient methods, deriving inspiration from the membranes in living cells. Intriguingly, on page 1347 of this issue, Karan et al. (1) show that synthetic membranes may get close to and eventually outperform their soft biological counterparts in many aspects. They targeted the rapidly developing field of organic solvent nanofiltration (OSN) (2). Such membrane filtration of nonaqueous solutions may help make chemical synthesis (3) more efficient and environmentally friendly by separating and recycling solvents, reactants, products, and catalysts.