Membranes that separate oil-water mixtures based on contrasting wetting properties have recently received significant attention. Separation of nanoemulsions, i.e. oil-water mixtures containing sub-micron droplets, still remains a key challenge. Tradeoffs between geometric constraints, high breakthrough pressure for selectivity, high flux, and mechanical durability make it challenging to design effective membranes. In this paper, we fabricate a hierarchical membrane by the phase inversion process that consists of a nanoporous separation skin layer supported by an integrated microporous layer. We demonstrate the separation of water-in-oil emulsions well below 1 μm in size. In addition, we tune the parameters of the hierarchical membrane fabrication to control the skin layer thickness and increase the total flux by a factor of four. These simple yet robust hierarchical membranes with engineered wetting characteristics show promise for large-scale, efficient separation systems.

Paper: Brian R. Solomon, Md. Nasim Hyder & Kripa K. Varanasi. Scientific Reports

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