This research was undertaken to develop state-of-the-art interfacially polymerized (IP) defect-free thin-film composite (TFC) membranes and understand their structure-function-performance relationships. Recent research showed the presence of defects in interfacially polymerized commercial membranes which potentially deter performance in liquid separations and render the membranes inadequate for gas separations.
Firstly, a modified method (named KRO1) was developed to fabricate interfacially polymerized defect-free TFCs using m-phenylene diamine (MPD) and trimesoyl chloride (TMC). The systematic study revealed the ability to heal defects in-situ by tweaking the reaction time along with considerably improving the membrane crosslinking by controlling the organic solution temperature. The two discoveries were combined to produce highly crosslinked, defect-free MPD-TMC polyamide membranes which showed exceptional performance for separating H2 from CO2. Permeance and pure-gas selectivity of the membrane increased with temperature. H2 permeance of 350 GPU and H2/CO2 selectivity of ~100 at 140 °C were obtained, the highest reported performance for this application using polymeric materials to date.
Second, the membranes produced using KRO1 were tested for reverse-osmosis (RO) performance which revealed significantly improved boron rejection compared to commercial membranes reaching a maximum of 99% at 15.5 bar feed pressure at pH 10. The study also unveiled direct correlations between membrane crosslinking and salt separation performance in addition to the membrane surface roughness.
This was followed by replacing the conventional IP TMC monomer with a large, rigid and contorted tetra-acyl chloride (TripTaC) monomer to enhance the performance of IP TFCs. The fabricated TFCs showed considerable performance boosts especially for separating of small solutes from organic solvents such as methanol. A rise in H2 permeance was also observed compared to the conventional MPD-TMC TFCs while reaching a maximum H2/CO2 selectivity of 9 at 22 °C.
Finally, the research was completed by showing the potential of KRO1 for fabrication of defect-free TFCs using a range of aqueous diamine monomers. KRO1 enabled defect-free gas properties for all monomers used showing exceptional performance for separating H2-CO2 and O2-N2 mixtures. It was further shown that the formulation could also improve the RO separation of interfacially polymerized polyamide TFCs beyond those shown by commercially available TFCs.