Fouling-resistant coating materials for water purification



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Membrane technology has been used in water purification for decades. However, membrane fouling remains a limiting factor. One way to control fouling is through surface modification. Several studies report that increasing surface hydrophilicity can reduce membrane fouling. Surface modification via physical coating (i.e., thin-film composite membrane) was explored in this research to prevent membrane fouling. Before making thin-film composite membranes, it was important to study structure/property relations in a series of potential coating materials. This research aims to contribute to a better fundamental understanding of the structure/property relations which govern water transport, rejection of model foulants (i.e., emulsified oil droplet or protein), and fouling characteristics in hydrogels based on poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) and N-vinyl-2-pyrrolidone (NVP). Crosslinked poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) free-standing films were prepared by UV-induced photopolymerization of PEGDA crosslinker in the presence of varying amounts of water or monofunctional poly(ethylene glycol) acrylate (PEGA). The crosslinked PEGDA films exhibited polymerization induced phase separation (PIPS) when the water content of the prepolymerization mixture was greater than 60 wt%. Visible light absorbance measurements, water uptake, water permeability, and salt kinetic desorption experiments were used to characterize the structure of these phase-separated, crosslinked hydrogels. The films with PIPS exhibited a porous morphology in cryogenic scanning electron microscope (CryoSEM) studies. Dead-end filtration experiments using deionized water and bovine serum albumin (BSA) solutions were performed to explore the fundamental transport and fouling properties of these materials. The total flux of pure water through the films after prior exposure to BSA solution was nearly equal to that of the as-prepared material, indicating that these PEGDA films resist fouling by BSA under the conditions studied. Crosslinked NVP free-standing films were prepared by UV-induced photopolymerization in the presence of water, with NVP as the monomer and N,N’-methylenebisacrylamide (MBAA) as the crosslinker. A series of crosslinked films were polymerized at various prepolymerization water contents, NVP/MBAA ratios and at various levels of UV light intensity in the polymerization. Like PEGDA, the NVP films also underwent phase-separation during polymerization. The influence of monomer/ crosslinker ratio, prepolymerization water content, and UV intensities on membrane morphology and water transport was characterized with CryoSEM, bio-atomic force microscope (Bio-AFM) and dead-end filtration. Molecular weight cutoff (MWCO) measurements were used to characterize the sieving property of crosslinked NVP films polymerized at different UV intensities. UV intensity was found to have an impact on the interconnectivity of crosslinked membranes. Finally, tests of fouling resistance to protein solution (bovine serum albumin) and oily water emulsion were performed. The NVP crosslinked films had good protein and oily water fouling resistance. Overall, both crosslinked PEGDA and NVP films exhibit fouling resistance to oily water emulsions or protein solution. NVP films had more porous structure and higher water permeability than did PEGDA films, while the more compact structure of PEGDA films led to better rejection of model foulants (e.g., protein) than in NVP films. Based on different applications (e.g., oil/water separation, protein filtration), different coating materials must be chosen according to the membrane morphology, transport property, and rejection of model foulants to achieve the highest water flux and foulant rejection in membranes used for water purification.