Next-Generation Ultrafiltration Membranes Enabled by Block Polymers

ACS Nano. 2020 Dec 22;14(12):16446-16471. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.0c07883. Epub 2020 Dec 14.


Reliable and equitable access to safe drinking water is a major and growing challenge worldwide. Membrane separations represent one of the most promising strategies for the energy-efficient purification of potential water sources. In particular, porous membranes are used for the ultrafiltration (UF) of water to remove contaminants with nanometric sizes. However, despite exhibiting excellent water permeability and solution processability, existing UF membranes contain a broad distribution of pore sizes that limit their size selectivity. To maximize the potential utility of UF membranes and allow for precise separations, improvements in the size selectivity of these systems must be achieved. Block polymers represent a potentially transformative solution, as these materials self-assemble into well-defined domains of uniform size. Several different strategies have been reported for integrating block polymers into UF membranes, and each strategy has its own set of materials and processing considerations to ensure that uniform and continuous pores are generated. This Review aims to summarize and critically analyze the chemistries, processing techniques, and properties required for the most common methods for producing porous membranes from block polymers, with a particular focus on the fundamental mechanisms underlying block polymer self-assembly and pore formation. Critical structure-property-performance metrics will be analyzed for block polymer UF membranes to understand how these membranes compare to commercial UF membranes and to identify key research areas for continued improvements. This Review is intended to inform readers of the capabilities and current challenges of block polymer UF membranes, while stimulating critical thought on strategies to advance these technologies.

Keywords: SNIPS; antifouling; block polymers; isoporous; membranes; permeability−selectivity; self-assembly; ultrafiltration; water filtration.

Publication types

  • Review