Enhanced desalination performance in compacted carbon-based reverse osmosis membranes

H Kitano and K Takeuchi and J Ortiz-Medina and I Ito and A Morelos-Gomez and R Cruz-Silva and T Yokokawa and M Terrones and A Yamaguchi and T Hayashi and M Endo, NANOSCALE ADVANCES, 2, 3444-3451 (2020).

DOI: 10.1039/d0na00263a

Reverse osmosis membranes typically suffer compaction during the initial stabilization stage due to the applied hydraulic pressure, altering the desalination performance. The elucidation of the underlying transformations during compaction is key for further development of new membranes and its deployment in real-world scenarios. Hydraulic compaction of amorphous carbon (a-C) based membranes under cross-flow operation for water purification and desalination has been observed experimentally, and analysed employing molecular dynamics simulations. The previous outstanding separation performance for carbon membranes, especially for the nitrogen-containing (a-C:N) type, has been studied during compaction using lab-scale cross-flow desalination membrane systems. Our results indicate that the high-water pressure induces an overall reduction in the interstitial spaces within the a-C structure. Remarkably, the compacted a-C:N membrane exhibits improved performance in salt rejection and water permeability, compared to the a-C based membrane. Our analysis shows that performance improvement can be related to the higher mechanical stability of the carbon structure due to the presence of nitrogen sites, which also promote water diffusion and permeability. These results show that a-C:N based membranes are a feasible alternative to conventional polymeric membranes.

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