PREPARATION OF POLYELECTROLYTE MEMBRANES EMBEDDED WITH ZEOLITE NANOPARTICLES FOR ENHANCED PERFORMANCE IN FORWARD OSMOSIS
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Water scarcity is a global issue that has already affected every continent. Membrane technology is considered as one of the most promising candidates for resolving this worsening issue. Among all the membrane processes, the emerging forward osmosis (FO) membrane process is osmotically-driven and has unique advantages compared with other traditional pressure-driven membrane processes. One of the major challenges to advancing the FO membrane process is the lack of a suitable membrane. Polyelectrolyte thin film prepared via layer-by-layer (LbL) technique has demonstrated its excellent performance in many applications including electronics, optics, sensors, etc. Recent studies have revealed the potential of polyelectrolyte thin films in acting as the active separation layer of FO membranes, but significant efforts are still needed to improve the membrane performance and understand the transport mechanisms. This dissertation introduces a novel approach to prepare a zeolite-embedded polyelectrolyte composite membrane for enhanced FO performance. This membrane takes advantages of the versatile LbL process to unprecedentedly incorporate high loading of zeolite nanoparticles, which are anticipated to facilitate water transport due to the uniquely interconnected structure of zeolites. Major topics discussed in this dissertation include: (1) the synthesis and evaluation of the polyelectrolyte-zeolite composite FO membrane, (2) the examination of the fouling resistance to identify its technical limitations, (3) the demonstration of the membrane regenerability as an effective strategy for membrane fouling control, and (4) the investigation of crosslinking effects on the membrane performance to elucidate the transport mechanisms involved in the zeolite-embedded polyelectrolyte membranes. Comparative studies have been made between polyelectrolyte membranes with and without zeolite incorporation. The findings suggest that the zeolite-embedded membrane, although slightly more susceptible to silica scaling, has demonstrated enhanced water flux and separation capability, good resistance to organic fouling, and complete regenerability for fouling control. Additionally, the embedded zeolite nanoparticles are proved to be able to create fast pathways for water transport. Overall, this work provides a novel strategy to create zeolite-polymer composite membranes with enhanced separation performance and unique fouling mitigation properties.