Membrane-based gas separation processes can address key challenges in energy and environment, but for many applications the permeance and selectivity of bulk membranes is insufficient for economical use. Theory and experiment indicate that permeance and selectivity can be increased by using two-dimensional materials with subnanometer pores as membranes. Motivated by experiments showing selective permeation of H2/CO mixtures through amorphous silica bilayers, here we perform a theoretical study of gas separation through silica bilayers. Using density functional theory calculations, we obtain geometries of crystalline free-standing silica bilayers (comprised of six-membered rings), as well as the seven-, eight-, and nine-membered rings that are observed in glassy silica bilayers, which arise due to Stone-Wales defects and vacancies. We then compute the potential energy barriers for gas passage through these various pore types for He, Ne, Ar, Kr, H2, N2, CO, and CO2 gases, and use the data to assess their capability for selective gas separation. Our calculations indicate that crystalline bilayer silica, which is less than a nanometer thick, can be a high-selectivity and high-permeance membrane material for 3He/4He, He/natural gas, and H2/CO separations.
Keywords: amorphous; bilayer silica; density functional theory; potential energy surface; resonant tunneling; vitreous.