Polyelectrolyte Complex Membranes via Salinity Change Induced Aqueous Phase Separation

Elif Nur Durmaz, Muhammad Irshad Baig, Joshua D. Willott, Wiebe M. de Vos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)
147 Downloads (Pure)


Polymeric membranes are used on very large scales for drinking water production and kidney dialysis, but they are nearly always prepared by using large quantities of unsustainable and toxic aprotic solvents. In this study, a water-based, sustainable, and simple way of making polymeric membranes is presented without the need for harmful solvents or extreme pH conditions. Membranes were prepared from water-insoluble polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) via aqueous phase separation (APS). Strong polyelectrolytes (PEs), poly(sodium 4-styrenesulfonate) (PSS), and poly(diallyldimethylammonium chloride) (PDADMAC) were mixed in the presence of excess of salt, thereby preventing complexation. Immersing a thin film of this mixture into a low-salinity bath induces complexation and consequently the precipitation of a solid PEC-based membrane. This approach leads to asymmetric nanofiltration membranes, with thin dense top layers and porous, macrovoid-free support layers. While the PSS molecular weight and the total polymer concentrations of the casting mixture did not significantly affect the membrane structure, they did affect the film formation process, the resulting mechanical stability of the films, and the membrane separation properties. The salt concentration of the coagulation bath has a large effect on membrane structure and allows for control over the thickness of the separation layer. The nanofiltration membranes prepared by APS have a low molecular weight cutoff (<300 Da), a high MgSO4 retention (∼80%), and good stability even at high pressures (10 bar). PE complexation induced APS is a simple and sustainable way to prepare membranes where membrane structure and performance can be tuned with molecular weight, polymer concentration, and ionic strength.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2612-2621
JournalACS Applied Polymer Materials
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2020


  • polyelectrolyte complexes
  • aqueous phase separation
  • nanofiltration
  • solvent-free
  • green fabrication


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