Abstract: Cellulose has emerged as an indispensable membrane material due to its abundant availability, low cost, fascinating physiochemical properties and environment benignancy. However, it is believed that the potential of this polymer is not fully explored yet due to its insolubility in the common organic solvents, encouraging the use of derivatization-regeneration method as a viable alternative to the direct dissolution in exotic or reactive solvents.
In this work, we use trimethylsilyl cellulose (TMSC), a highly soluble cellulose derivative, as a precursor for the fabrication of cellulose thin film composite membranes. TMSC is an attractive precursor to assemble thin cellulose films with good deposition behavior and film morphology; cumbersome solvents used in the one step cellulose processing are avoided. This derivative is prepared from cellulose by the known silylation reaction. The complete transformation of TMSC back into cellulose after the membrane formation is carried out by vapor-phase acid treatment, which is simple, scalable and reproducible. This process along with the initial TMSC concentration determines the membrane sieving characteristics.
Unlike the typical regenerated cellulose membranes with meso- or macropores, membranes regenerated from TMSC display micropores suitable for the selective separation of nanomolecules in aqueous and organic solvent nanofiltration. The membranes introduced in this thesis represent the first polymeric membranes ever reported for highly selective separation of similarly sized small organic molecules based on charge and size differences with outstanding fluxes. Owing to its strong hydrophilic and amorphous character, the membranes also demonstrate excellent air-dehumidification performance as compared to previously reported thin film composite membranes. Moreover, the use of TMSC enables the creation of the previously unfeasible cellulose–polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and cellulose–polyethyleneimine (PEI) blend membranes with a good compatibility. The cellulose–PDMS membranes demonstrate attractive performance in ethanol-water pervaporation as compared to the commercial PDMS membrane, and allow nanofiltration of a wide range of solvents with different polarity. The cellulose-PEI membranes exhibit anomalous performance improvement in nanofiltration as compared to the corresponding pure membranes. This study has opened up many great opportunities for cellulose to continuously contribute to sustainable and economical membrane processes.