Microporous silica membranes have silica polymer network voids smaller than 3 Å where only small gas molecules such as helium (2.6 Å) and hydrogen (2.89 Å) can be transported. These silica membranes are highly expected to be available for H2 separation. In order to examine gas permeation mechanisms in the silica polymer network voids, factors such as membrane porous structures, gas diffusivity, and gas permeability were studied via membrane permeation molecular dynamics simulation. The thermal motions of silica membrane constituent atoms were examined according to classic harmonic oscillation potential using a suitable amorphous silica structure and non-equilibrium molecular dynamics (NEMD) simulations of gas permeation. The dynamic model successfully simulated the gas permeation characteristics in an amorphous silica membrane with a suitable Hooke’s potential parameter. The introduction of the oscillative thermal motion of the membrane atoms enhanced gas diffusivity. Helium and hydrogen diffusivity and permeability were analyzed using gas translation (GT) and solid vibration (SV) models. The diffusion distance of gas molecules between adsorption sites was around 5.5–7 Å. The solid-type vibration frequencies of gas molecules in the site were on the order of 1013 and were reasonably smaller for heavier helium than for hydrogen. Both the GT and SV models could explain the temperature dependency of helium and hydrogen gas diffusivities, but the SV model provided a more realistic geometrical representation of the silica membrane. The SV model also successfully explained gas permeability in an actual silica membrane as well as the virtual amorphous silica membrane.
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