Elucidating the Effect of Aliphatic Molecular Plugs on Ion-Rejecting Properties of Polyamide Membranes

Mikhail Stolov, Or Keisar, Yair Cohen, Viatcheslav Freger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Polyamide RO membranes are widely used for seawater desalination owing to their high salt rejection and water permeability; however, improved selectivity-permeability trade-off is still desired. "Molecular plugs,"small molecules immobilized within the polyamide structure, offer an attractive approach; however, their overall effect on polyamide physicochemical properties poses many questions. Here, we analyze the effect of decylamine, a promising plug, and a few charged and uncharged mimics on polyamide films using several in situ techniques. Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) reveals a complex pH-dependent response, whereby, upon exposure to amine solution, conductivity first rapidly drops; however, under alkaline conditions, when amine is uncharged, the trend subsequently slowly reverses, and conductivity increases. This slow reversal was observed for noncharged alcohols of similar size as well, but not for larger surfactant molecules. The reversal was assigned to the uptake of plug molecules within polyamide, as opposed to the fast initial drop assigned to surface adsorption. EIS and quartz-crystal microbalance (QCM) results showed that exposure to decylamine under alkaline conditions ultimately led to an irreversible decrease in conductivity, that is, stronger ion rejection, remaining after re-exposure of polyamide to amine-free buffer. This suggests that plug uptake within polyamide resulted in polymer stress, indeed observed in surface stress measurements, and subsequent relaxation. The results indicate that the moderate size of decylamine and conditions minimizing its charge were optimal for irreversible change; however, charge interactions helped maximize its binding within polymer and induce the desired sustained change in selectivity. The results have many potential implications for improving current membrane desalination technology and increasing inherent membrane selectivity toward hard-to-remove species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13335-13343
Number of pages9
JournalACS applied materials & interfaces
Issue number11
StatePublished - 23 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • boron rejection
  • hydrophobic interactions
  • molecular plugs
  • polyamide desalination membranes
  • polymer relaxation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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