Supported lipid bilayer membranes for water purification by reverse osmosis

Langmuir. 2010 May 18;26(10):7388-95. doi: 10.1021/la904411b.


Some biological plasma membranes pass water with a permeability and selectivity largely exceeding those of commercial membranes for water desalination using specialized trans-membrane proteins aquaporins. However, highly selective transport of water through aquaporins is usually driven by an osmotic rather mechanical pressure, which is not as attractive from the engineering point of view. The feasibility of adopting biomimetic membranes for water purification driven by a mechanical pressure, i.e., filtration is explored in this paper. Toward this goal, it is proposed to use a commercial nanofiltration (NF) membrane as a support for biomimetic lipid bilayer membranes to render them robust enough to withstand the required pressures. It is shown in this paper for the first time that by properly tuning molecular interactions supported phospholipid bilayers (SPB) can be prepared on a commercial NF membrane. The presence of SPB on the surface was verified and quantified by several spectroscopic and microscopic techniques, which showed morphology close to the desired one with very few defects. As an ultimate test it is shown that hydraulic permeability of the SPB supported on the NF membrane (NTR-7450) approaches the values deduced from the typical osmotic permeabilities of intact continuous bilayers. This permeability was unaffected by the trans-membrane flow of water and by repeatedly releasing and reapplying a 10 bar pressure. Along with a parallel demonstration that aquaporins could be incorporated in a similar bilayer on mica, this demonstrates the feasibility of the proposed approach. The prepared SPB structure may be used as a platform for preparing biomimetic filtration membranes with superior performance based on aquaporins. The concept of SPBs on permeable substrates of the present type may also be useful in the future for studying transport of various molecules through trans-membrane proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry*
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Membranes, Artificial*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nanocomposites / chemistry*
  • Osmosis*
  • Particle Size
  • Surface Properties
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Water