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Pulsed hydraulic-pressure-responsive self-cleaning membrane


Pressure-driven membranes is a widely used separation technology in a range of industries, such as water purification, bioprocessing, food processing and chemical production1,2. Despite their numerous advantages, such as modular design and minimal footprint, inevitable membrane fouling is the key challenge in most practical applications3. Fouling limits membrane performance by reducing permeate flux or increasing pressure requirements, which results in higher energetic operation and maintenance costs4,5,6,7. Here we report a hydraulic-pressure-responsive membrane (PiezoMem) to transform pressure pulses into electroactive responses for in situ self-cleaning. A transient hydraulic pressure fluctuation across the membrane results in generation of current pulses and rapid voltage oscillations (peak, +5.0/−3.2 V) capable of foulant degradation and repulsion without the need for supplementary chemical cleaning agents, secondary waste disposal or further external stimuli3,8,9,10,11,12,13. PiezoMem showed broad-spectrum antifouling action towards a range of membrane foulants, including organic molecules, oil droplets, proteins, bacteria and inorganic colloids, through reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and dielectrophoretic repulsion.

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Fig. 1: Piezoelectricity and microstructural and morphology characterization of the MnO/BTO grains and membranes.
Fig. 2: Piezoelectric effect and fouling reduction induced by hydraulic pressure.
Fig. 3: Universal PiezoMem antifouling.
Fig. 4: Mechanism of membrane self-cleaning.

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The data supporting the findings of this study are included within the paper and its Supplementary Information and are available from the corresponding author on request.


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This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (21976085) and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant nos. 2016YFA0203104 and 2017YFE010720). G.G. thanks J.D. and C.S. for the measurement of pore size distribution and porosity, L.T.P. for their efforts in preparing the new PiezoMem to enable long-term running and Nanjing Wondux Environmental Protection Technology Corp. Ltd. for their assistance in scaling up the new PiezoMem and carrying out long-term experiments.

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Authors and Affiliations



G.G. conceived the idea, supervised this work and revised the manuscript. Y.Z. designed and carried out the experiments (not including the preparation of the redesigned and improved new PiezoMem, and its long-term and scale-up experiments) and drafted the manuscript. B.L. and Y.G simulated and verified dielectrophoresis. Y.Y. measured the morphology of PiezoMem. C.S. discussed and revised the manuscript. C.D.V. discussed the data, proposed the dielectrophoresis antifouling mechanism and revised the manuscript. J.G. and S.Z. proposed the new PiezoMem in the revision of this manuscript. All authors analysed and interpreted the results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Guandao Gao.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature thanks Suzana Nunes and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Membrane poling and periodical pressure cycling membrane filtration devices.

Devices of the membrane poling process (ac), piezoelectricity determination (d) and the periodical pressure cycling membrane filtration (e).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Characterization of PiezoMem.

The enhanced membrane strength of MnO/BTO PiezoMem without crack after filtration compared with the pure BTO membrane (a). Pore (b) and grain size (c) distributions of the PiezoMem after sintering. ESEM and the corresponding EDS elemental mapping images (corresponding ESEM images scale bar, 1 mm) of the PiezoMem (d). HRTEM image of the grain (e). STEM-HAADF EDS results (f) from the selected region of the MnO/BTO grain in Fig 1d. The pore size distribution measured by the mercury porosimetry method (g).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Characterization and properties of piezoelectric particles, membrane and foulants.

XRD patterns (a), underwater oil contact angle (b), permittivity (c), d33 values of the membranes (d) and the piezo outputs of the PiezoMem in response to a weight of 300 g in O/W emulsion (e). DLVO energy as a function of separation distance between O/W particle membranes (f,g) and the grain size distribution and zeta potential of foulants (h).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Optimization of pressure operation cycles.

The corresponding changing pressure on antifouling (ad). PiezoMem resists the sudden and transient high content feed solution up to 5,000 ppm (e) by regulating pressure operation (f). The flux of PiezoMem under lower pressure conditions (<2 bar) (g) and corresponding antifouling properties (h). Four parallel tests under the cycle condition (70-(2-7) s, 2 bar) with a high 2,500-ppm O/W emulsion (i).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Foulants in the pores and surfaces of PiezoMem and non-PiezoMem.

ESEM images of the membranes after O/W emulsion (a), BSA (b), SiO2 (c) and Al2O3 (d) filtration. EDS elemental mapping images in a and b correspond to the cross-section ESEM images. (e), flux50 permeation of the membranes. (f), Typical element content of foulants on the membrane surface after pressure cycling filtration according to the EDX results. (Note that the content of BSA was 50 ppm, whereas those of oil, SiO2 and Al2O3 were all 2,500 ppm).

Extended Data Fig. 6 Antibacterial performance.

Images of the PiezoMem and non-PiezoMem (ad) towards E. coli.

Extended Data Fig. 7 COMSOL simulation.

Modelling dielectrophoresis (ae) and electrostatic interaction (f) results.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains the COMSOL simulation and legends for supplementary videos.

Supplementary Video 1.

Supplementary Video 2.

Supplementary Video 3.

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Zhao, Y., Gu, Y., Liu, B. et al. Pulsed hydraulic-pressure-responsive self-cleaning membrane. Nature 608, 69–73 (2022).

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