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Engineering Polymer Forest on Membranes: Tuning Density, Thickness, and Architecture for Biofouling Control

Applying membrane technology for alleviating the water crisis calls for the investigation of green, low-cost, and stable anti-biofouling membranes. In this study, forest-like polymer layer consisting of a homopolymer or dual-functional block copolymer with fouling resistant and anti-microbial properties was grafted onto graphene oxide (GO)-coated polyamide membranes to control biofouling. Activators regenerated by the electron transfer-atom transfer radical polymerization (ARGET-ATRP) technique were utilized to controllably grow a polymer on the membrane with a desired density, thickness and architecture. With a higher density, the polymer forest protects the membrane from bacteria attachment more effectively. Surface hydrophilicity significantly improves the bacteria-resistance of the membrane. Block copolymer brushes with different architectures mitigate biofouling caused by gram-positive (G(+)) and gram-negative (G(-)) bacteria via different strategies. With a bacteria-“attacking” moiety on top, the membrane is found to reduce biofouling caused by B. subtilis via a bacteria-“defending” and bacteria-“attacking” synergistic effect. However, in controlling biofouling caused by E. coli, the bacteria-“defending” function plays a critical role. The block copolymer modified membrane exhibits a lower flux decrease (27%) associated with E. coli proliferation compared to that for a control polyamide (PA) membrane (80%), and it also achieves a 100% flux recovery after two cycles of “fouling-cleaning” operation. The results from this study elucidates the Structure-Property-Performance Relationship (SPPR) for polymer forest grafted membranes and exemplify engineering design for a polymer brush used for developing the next generation of functional membranes.

مهندسی جنگل پلیمر روی غشا: سرعت بخشیدن به تراکم، ضخامت و معماری برای کنترل زیستی

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