Thin film composite (TFC) polyamide membranes set the golden standard for reverse osmosis technology, but tuning their permeability and selectivity remains a major challenge because of the inherent permeability-selectivity trade-off. Creating nano-sized voids within the polyamide rejection layer can tune the membrane roughness and increase its effective filtration area to improve the water permeability. Here we prepare nano-foamed polyamide rejection layers by adding sodium bicarbonate into the aqueous solution of amine monomers. We show a systematic evolution of the roughness structure of polyamide membranes, with increasingly leaf-like and belt-like features appearing under enhanced nano-foaming conditions. These nano-foamed features can result in remarkable improvements in both water permeability and salt rejection and reduce membrane fouling propensity at the same time. Our study paves a new research direction for designing future generation of desalination membranes, which holds vast potential to reduce the cost and energy consumption of desalination while achieving improved product water quality.
Keywords: Anti-fouling; Permeability; Roughness; Selectivity; TFC polyamide membrane.
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