Porous membranes coated with so-called asymmetric polyelectrolyte multilayers (PEMs) have recently been shown to outperform commercial membranes for micropollutant removal. They consist of open support layers of poly(styrene sulfonate) (PSS)/poly(allylamine) (PAH) capped by denser and more selective layers of either PAH/poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) or PAH/Nafion. Unfortunately, the structure of these asymmetric PEMs, and thus their superior membrane performance, is poorly understood. In this work, neutron reflectometry (NR) is employed to elucidate the multilayered structure and hydration of these asymmetric PEMs. NR reveals that the multilayers are indeed asymmetric in structure, with distinct bottom and top multilayers when air-dried and when solvated. The low hydration of the top [PAH/Nafion] multilayer, together with the low water permeance of comparable [PAH/Nafion]-capped PEM membranes, demonstrate that it is a reduction in hydration that makes these separation layers denser and more selective. In contrast, the [PAH/PAA] capping multilayers are more hydrated than the support [PSS/PAH] layers, signifying that, here, densification of the separation layer occurs through a decrease in the mesh size (or effective pore size) of the top layer due to the higher charge density of the PAH/PAA couple compared to the PSS/PAH couple. The [PAH/PAA] and [PAH/Nafion] separation layers are extremely thin (∼4.5 and ∼7 nm, respectively), confirming that these asymmetric PEM membranes have some of the thinnest separation layers ever achieved.
|Number of pages||11|
|Publication status||Published - 8 Dec 2020|