3D printed polyamide membranes for desalination

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Science  17 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6403, pp. 682-686
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2122

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Spraying makes it smoother

Commercial reverse osmosis processes for water desalination use membranes made by the polymerization of polyamide at the oil/water interface. Chowdhury et al. show that thinner, smoother membranes can be made with an electrospray technique. Using high voltage, the two precursors are finely sprayed onto a substrate and polymerize on contact. The composition of the resulting membrane can be tuned on the basis of the proportion of the two components. At optimum conditions, the membranes appear to be better at desalination than current commercial reverse osmosis membranes.

Science, this issue p. 682


Polyamide thickness and roughness have been identified as critical properties that affect thin-film composite membrane performance for reverse osmosis. Conventional formation methodologies lack the ability to control these properties independently with high resolution or precision. An additive approach is presented that uses electrospraying to deposit monomers directly onto a substrate, where they react to form polyamide. The small droplet size coupled with low monomer concentrations result in polyamide films that are smoother and thinner than conventional polyamides, while the additive nature of the approach allows for control of thickness and roughness. Polyamide films are formed with a thickness that is controllable down to 4-nanometer increments and a roughness as low as 2 nanometers while still exhibiting good permselectivity relative to a commercial benchmarking membrane.

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