Composite membranes comprised of an ultra-thin coating film formed over a porous support membrane are the basis for state-of-the-art reverse osmosis (RO) and nanofiltration (NF) membranes, offering the possibility to independently optimize the support membrane and the coating film. However, limited information exists on transport through such composite membrane structures. Numerical calculations have been carried out in order to probe the impacts of the support membrane skin-layer pore size and porosity, support membrane bulk micro-porosity, and coating film thickness and morphology (i.e. surface roughness) on solvent and solute transport through composite membranes. Results suggest that the flux and rejection of a composite membrane may be fine-tuned, by adjusting support membrane skin layer porosity and pore size, independent of the properties of the coating film. Further, the water flux over the membrane surface is unevenly distributed, creating local ‘hot spots’ of high flux that may govern initial stages of membrane fouling and scaling. The analysis provides important insight on how the non-trivial interaction of support properties and film roughness may result in widely varying transport properties of the composite structure. In particular, the simulations reveal inherent trade-offs between flux, rejection and fouling propensity (the latter due to ‘hot spots’), which are purely consequences of geometrical factors, irrespective of materials chemistry.
- OCCAM Special Seminar