Open-Celled Foams of Polyethersulfone/Poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone) Blends for Ultrafiltration Applications


Since membranes made of open porous polymer foams can eliminate the use of organic solvents during their manufacturing, a series of previous studies have explored the foaming process of various polymers including polyethersulfone (PESU) using physical blowing agents but failed to produce ultrafiltration membranes. In this study, blends containing different ratios of PESU and poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone) (PVP) were used for preparation of open-celled polymer foams. In batch foaming experiments involving a combination of supercritical CO2 and superheated water as blowing agents, blends with low concentration of PVP delivered uniform open-celled foams that consisted of cells with average cell size less than 20 µm and cell walls containing open pores with average pore size less than 100 nm. A novel sample preparation method was developed to eliminate the non-foamed skin layer and to achieve a high porosity. Flat sheet membranes with an average cell size of 50 nm in the selective layer and average internal pore size of 200 nm were manufactured by batch foaming a PESU blend with higher concentration of PVP and post-treatment with an aqueous solution of sodium hypochlorite. These foams are associated with a water-flux up to 45 L/(h m2 bar). Retention tests confirmed their applicability as ultrafiltration membranes.
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