Tunable membranes incorporating artificial water channels for high-performance brackish/low-salinity water reverse osmosis desalination

by M. di Vincenzo, A. Tiraferri, V. Musteata, S. Chisca, M. Deleanu, F. Ricceri, D. Cot, S. P. Nunes, M. Barboiu
Year: 2021 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2022200118


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2021, 118, e2022200118

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2021, 118, e2022200118


Membrane-based technologies have a tremendous role in water purification and desalination. Inspired by biological proteins, artificial water channels (AWCs) have been proposed to overcome the permeability/selectivity trade-off of desalination processes. Promising strategies exploiting the AWC with angstrom-scale selectivity have revealed their impressive performances when embedded in bilayer membranes. Herein, we demonstrate that self-assembled imidazole-quartet (I-quartet) AWCs are macroscopically incorporated within industrially relevant reverse osmosis membranes. In particular, we explore the best combination between I-quartet AWC and m-phenylenediamine (MPD) monomer to achieve a seamless incorporation of AWC in a defect-free polyamide membrane. The performance of the membranes is evaluated by cross-flow filtration under real reverse osmosis conditions (15 to 20 bar of applied pressure) by filtration of brackish feed streams. The optimized bioinspired membranes achieve an unprecedented improvement, resulting in more than twice (up to 6.9 L⋅m−2⋅h−1⋅bar−1) water permeance of analogous commercial membranes, while maintaining excellent NaCl rejection (>99.5%). They show also excellent performance in the purification of low-salinity water under low-pressure conditions (6 bar of applied pressure) with fluxes up to 35 L⋅m−2⋅h−1 and 97.5 to 99.3% observed rejection.