Overcoming the permeability-selectivity trade-off of desalination membranes via controlled solvent activation

Min Gyu Shin, Jin Young Seo, Hosik Park, You In Park, Jung Hyun Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Here, we present a facile solvent activation method for significantly enhancing the desalination performance of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. Polyamide (PA)-thin film composite (TFC) RO membranes were activated with a dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)/water mixture, whose solvency power was carefully controlled by adjusting the DMSO volume fraction. A DMSO/water mixture with a DMSO volume fraction of 0.3 effectively activated the PA selective layer while marginally deforming the polysulfone support of the lab-made PA-TFC membrane, thus considerably enhancing its water permeance by ~43% while maintaining its NaCl rejection (~99.4%). All the commercial membranes activated with the optimized DMSO/water activation protocol also exhibited dramatically enhanced water permeance (26–155%) with unchanged or even higher NaCl rejection, surpassing the conventional permeability–selectivity trade-off. A careful characterization of the structures and properties of the model PA film under various solvent environments revealed the thermodynamics and kinetics associated with the activation-induced structural deformation of the PA network, which governs its structural density, consequently affecting the separation properties of the membrane. Our strategy provides a commercially viable means for the fabrication of high-performance membranes together with shedding light on the underlying the structure-property relationship of polymeric membranes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118870
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Feb 15


  • Dimethyl sulfoxide
  • Polyamide
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Solvent activation
  • Thin film composite membrane

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation


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