Extraordinarily water permeable sol-gel formed nanocomposite nanofibrous membranes


Electrospun nanofibrous membranes (ENMs) are considered as a state of the art in water filtration technology mainly owing to their high interconnected porosity and tunable pore size assumed to offer a very high permeability also selectivity. However, the extremely high surface area makes the ENMs prone to mechanical breakdown and lack of wettability lowering the filtration efficiency. Hence, any attempt to enhance both the mechanical properties and hydrophilicity of the ENMs is highly recommended. In the current study, the structural and transport properties of polyethersulfone (PES) ENMs were modified through incorporation of titania (TiO2) nanoparticles via a sol-gel approach. Presence of titania precursor increased the conductivity of the electrospun solution thereby optimized the structural features of the electrospun mat in terms of formation of very thin beadless nanofibers, a higher porosity and smaller pore size. Moreover, a significant rise in mechanical properties, thermal stability and switching from a highly hydrophobic membrane to a superhydrophilic one occur simultaneously. The combination of a more optimum porosity, very high mechanical properties and hydrophilicity leads to a significantly higher water permeability in the TiO2/PES ENMs encouraging us to propose it as a water filtration membrane with longer life span and lower energy consumption.
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