A new class of porous membrane has been fabricated that is unique in its combination of nanoscale thickness (<50 nm) with macroscopic, yet robust, millimeter-scale lateral dimensions and tunable pore size in the range of ˜5nm to ˜100nm. The membrane material is porous nanocrystalline Si (pnc-Si)1, and is being scaled-up to commercial volumes by a startup company, SiMPore, Inc. Standard commercial separation membranes with pores in this size regime are polymeric materials (poly ether sulphone, cellulose, etc.), microns in thickness, leading to pore morphologies that resemble long narrow tubes or tortuous-path 3-D matrices. As pnc-Si membrane thickness approaches the pore diameters, a simplified structure of holes in a thin sheet results, greatly enhancing both diffusive and forced flow transport through the membrane, as predicted by classical transport theories2. Pnc-Si has confirmed these theoretical predictions, demonstrating record-breaking transport rates, in addition to precise size-separation of nanoparticles, viruses, proteins, and nucleic acids.
Applications for this highly precise silicon-based membrane range from highly efficient separations and purification of biomolecules, complexes, and nanoparticles, to substrates for microscopy to cell culture and co-culture. SiMPore is focused on navigating this application space with the goal of quickly introducing products that will allow the company to become self-sustaining and profitable though direct sales or partnerships with market leaders. Key product development drivers include potential competitive performance advantages and perceived value to a particular market, the IP landscape, development costs of the membrane and the device package/interface, and alignment with existing in-house capabilities.