Polyamide desalination membrane characterization and surface modification to enhance fouling resistance




Van Wagner, Elizabeth Marie

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The market for polyamide desalination membranes is expected to continue to grow during the coming decades. Purification of alternative water sources will also be necessary to meet growing water demands. Purification of produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas production, is of interest due to its dual potential to provide water for beneficial use as well as to reduce wastewater disposal costs. However, current polyamide membranes are prone to fouling, which decreases water flux and shortens membrane lifetime. This research explored surface modification using poly(ethylene glycol) diglycidyl ether (PEGDE) to improve the fouling resistance of commercial polyamide membranes. Characterization of commercial polyamide membrane performance was a necessary first step before undertaking surface modification studies. Membrane performance was found to be sensitive to crossflow testing conditions. Concentration polarization and feed pH strongly influenced NaCl rejection, and the use of continuous feed filtration led to higher water flux and lower NaCl rejection than was observed for similar tests performed using unfiltered feed. Two commercial polyamide membranes, including one reverse osmosis and one nanofiltration membrane, were modified by grafting PEGDE to their surfaces. Two different PEG molecular weights (200 and 1000) and treatment concentrations (1% (w/w) and 15% (w/w)) were studied. Water flux decreased and NaCl rejection increased with PEGDE graft density ([microgram]/cm2), although the largest changes were observed for low PEGDE graft densities. Surface properties including hydrophilicity, roughness and charge were minimally affected by surface modification. The fouling resistance of modified and unmodified membranes was compared in crossflow filtration studies using model foulant solutions consisting of either a charged surfactant or an oil in water emulsion containing n-decane and a charged surfactant. Several PEGDE-modified membranes demonstrated improved fouling resistance compared to unmodified membranes of similar initial water flux, possibly due to steric hindrance imparted by the PEG chains. Fouling resistance was higher for membranes modified with higher molecular weight PEG. Fouling was more extensive for feeds containing the cationic surfactant, potentially due to electrostatic attraction with the negatively charged membranes. However, fouling was also observed in the presence of the anionic surfactant, indicating hydrodynamic forces are also responsible for fouling.



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