Molecular insights into the structure-property relationships of 3D printed polyamide reverse-osmosis membrane for desalination

JL He and JS Yang and JR McCutcheon and Y Li, JOURNAL OF MEMBRANE SCIENCE, 658, 120731 (2022).

DOI: 10.1016/j.memsci.2022.120731

3D-printing is an emerging method for manufacturing polyamide (PA) reserve osmosis (RO) membranes for water treatment and desalination, which can precisely control membrane structural properties, such as thickness, roughness, and resolution. However, the synthesis-structure (i.e., degree of cross-linking (DC), m-phenylenediamine/trimesoyl chloride (MPD/TMC) ratio, and membrane thickness) to property (permeability and water-salt selectivity) relationships for these membranes has not been well understood. At the same time, a microscopic understanding of the physical mechanism of water and salt transport is needed to guide the design of highperformance 3D-printed membranes and improve the printing efficiency. Thus, the atomic-scale transport features and energetics of water and salt ions are studied at high pressure for the 3D-printed PA RO membranes with the different DCs and MPD/TMC ratios through non-equilibrium molecular dynamics (NEMD) simulations. Factoring in membrane structure properties, rejection ratio of salt ions and pressure-dependent water flux, 3D printed PA membranes having an MPD/TMC ratio of 3.0:2.0 and a DC between 80%~90% attains ideal performance: high water flux, high rejection of salt ions, and excellent structural integrity. Mechanistically, water permeability for highly cross-linked PA RO membranes depends on the temporary on-and-off channels that allow water molecules to jump from one cavity to another at high pressure. In addition, higher pressures cause rapid compaction of PA membranes' free volume and membrane thickness. Membrane failure at high pressure is determined by the DC and MPD/TMC ratios-dependent compressive yield strength. In short, these findings provide physical insights for optimizing existing PA membranes and designing next- generation desalination membranes at the molecular level.

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