Characterization of isolated polyamide thin films of RO and NF membranes using novel TEM techniques

Federico A. Pacheco, Ingo Pinnau, Martin Reinhard, James O. Leckie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Scopus citations

Abstract

Achieving a better understanding of transport and rejection mechanisms in RO and NF membranes requires more detailed information of the nanostructure of polyamide thin films. This study reports on two novel transmission electron microscopy (TEM) techniques for characterizing polyamide nanostructure. The first technique produces cross-sectional images of isolated polyamide thin films by removing the polysulfone support from regular TEM cross-sections. In the second technique called " projected area" TEM (PA-TEM), isolated polyamide thin films are placed with their surface perpendicular to the electron beam. The resulting images capture the thickness, morphology and mass density of the entire thin film. In combination, these new techniques provide information on polyamide nanostructure that is not evident using conventional methods. For the commercial RO membrane ESPA3, the cross-sectional view of the isolated polyamide thin film shows a 30-60. nm thick base of nodular polyamide (presumably the separation barrier) that forms a relatively smooth interface with the polysulfone support. Above this, a more open structure of loose polyamide extends outward giving rise to the ridge-and-valley surface structure. In PA-TEM images, the ridges and valleys correspond to the dark and bright regions, respectively; the polyamide nodular base appears as round features forming an irregular honeycomb pattern throughout the images. Membrane cross-sections were prepared with a simple resin embedding protocol using the acrylic resin LR White. The protocol did not require dehydration steps, and was applicable to both dry and wet membrane samples. Artifacts that may be produced during sample preparation were also documented. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-59
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
Volume358
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 15 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Filtration and Separation
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry

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