Online Lecture Series – Wiebe de Vos

Polyelectrolyte self-assembly for the next generation of sustainable membranes: From ultra-thin coatings to complete membranes

Wiebe M. de Vos, Membrane Surface Science, University of Twente, The Netherlands

The intensification of the use and reuse of fresh water resources comes at a cost. Reports on rising levels of emerging contaminants in our water are numerous. New and better membrane materials are urgently needed to come to better and more sustainable water treatment processes. Over the past decade polyelectrolyte multilayers have established themselves as one of the most promising new materials in membrane Science and Technology. Novel nanofiltration membranes are prepared by the self-assembly of oppositely charged polyelectrolytes at the interfaces of a porous ultrafiltration support membrane. In this so-called Layer-by-Layer (LbL) assembly, the support membrane is alternatively exposed to polycations and polyanions, to build polyelectrolyte multilayer’s (PEMs) of controllable thickness. After coating the separation properties of the membrane are completely determined by the applied PEM layer.

In this presentation, we will discuss how a novel asymmetric approach to PEM membrane preparation can lead to membranes with unique separation properties. We present a membrane with an active separation layer of just 4-6 nm in thickness. The membrane retains small organics at high fluxes, while allowing ions to easily pass through the membrane. The unique membrane properties also allow for new processes to more efficiently treat both surface and waste water [1].

And we can even push this one step further. By a carefully controlled 1-step precipitation process, we can prepare polyelectrolyte complex based membranes, where the polyelectrolyte complex functions as the porous support membrane and as the separation layer. This aqueous phase separation (APS) approach, has strong similarities to the traditional non-solvent induced phase separation process, but without producing water streams contaminated with aprotic organic solvents. Indeed, also in APS it is possible to create very promising nanofiltration membranes [2], with excellent stability in organic solvents and at extreme pH values.


[1] te Brinke, E.; Reurink, D. M.; Achterhuis, I.; de Grooth, J.; de Vos, W. M., Applied Materials Today 2020, 18, 100471.

[2] Baig, M. I.; Durmaz, E. N.; Willott, J. D.; de Vos, W. M., Advanced Functional Materials 2020, 30 (5), 1907344.