Aqueous phase separation (APS) is a recently developed sustainable alternative to the conventional organic solvent based nonsolvent-induced phase separation (NIPS) method to prepare polymeric membranes. In APS, polyelectrolytes are precipitated from aqueous solutions through pH or salinity switches. Although APS differs from NIPS in the polymer and solvents, they share many tuning parameters. In this work, we investigate the APS-based preparation of membranes from poly(styrene-alt-maleic acid) (PSaMA) with a focus on acid concentration in the coagulation bath, and polymer and additive concentration in the casting solution. Nanofiltration membranes are prepared using significantly lower concentrations of acid: 0.3 M HCl compared to the 2 M of either acetic or phosphoric acid used in previous works. It is shown that higher polymer concentrations can be used to prevent defect formation in the top layer. In addition, acetic acid concentration also strongly affects casting solution viscosity and thus can be used to control membrane structure, where lower acetic acid concentrations can prevent the formation of macrovoids in the support structure. The prepared nanofiltration membranes exhibit a very low molecular weight cutoff (210 ± 40 dalton), making these sustainable membranes very relevant for the removal of contaminants of emerging concern. Understanding how the parameters described here affect membrane preparation and performance is essential to optimizing membranes prepared with APS towards this important application.
- Aqueous phase separation
- Contaminants of emerging concern