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High performance polyester reverse osmosis desalination membrane with chlorine resistance


Chlorination is a common practice to prevent biofouling in municipal water supplies, wastewater reuse and seawater desalination. However, polyamide thin-film composite reverse osmosis membranes—the premier technology for desalination and clean-water production—structurally deteriorate when continually exposed to chlorine species. Here, we use layer-by-layer interfacial polymerization of 3,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid with trimesoyl chloride to fabricate a polyester thin-film composite reverse osmosis membrane that is chlorine-resistant in neutral and acidic conditions. Strong steric hindrance and an electron-withdrawing group effectively prevent direct aromatic chlorination, and residual OH groups capped with isophthaloyl dichloride preclude reaction with active chlorine. The poly(isophthalester) membrane exhibits high salt rejection (99.1 ± 0.2%) and water permeability (2.97 ± 0.13 l m−2 h−1 bar−1), even after demonstrating biofouling prevention with chlorine (50 mg l−1 of NaOCl for 15 min). We anticipate that our chlorine-resistant membrane will greatly advance reverse osmosis desalination as a sustainable technology to meet the global challenge of water supply.

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Fig. 1: Design and fabrication procedure of the polyester RO membrane.
Fig. 2: Desalination performance, micro-scale morphology and DFT simulation results for fabricated polyester membranes.
Fig. 3: Performances and morphologies of PIP-DHBA-DHBA and SW30 membranes after chlorine exposure.
Fig. 4: Performance recovery of fouled PIP-DHBA-DHBA and SW30 membranes after chlorine exposure.

Data availability

Data are available upon reasonable request from the authors, according to their contributions. Source data are provided with this paper.


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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (21774058), the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BK20180072) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (NUST 30918012201, 30920021119). We also acknowledge the US National Science Foundation through the Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (EEC1449500) and the American Water Works Association Abel Wolman Fellowship awarded to R.M.D.

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Authors and Affiliations



X.Z. conceived the initial idea and experimental design. X.Z. and M.E. supervised the study and experiments. Y.Y. performed the membrane fabrication and characterization experiments. P.Z. and C.J. carried out the molecular dynamics simulations and analysed the data. All authors analysed results and commented on the manuscript. Y.Y., X.Z., R.M.D. and M.E. wrote the paper with help from all authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xuan Zhang or Menachem Elimelech.

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Competing interests

X.Z. and Y.Y. are inventors on patent applications (201911277839.9 and 201911270642.2) submitted by Nanjing University of Science and Technology, which cover the fabrication of polyester RO membranes. All other authors have no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–18, Tables 1–8 and Notes 1–9.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

Desalination performance, micro-scale morphology and DFT simulation results for fabricated polyester membranes.

Source Data Fig. 3

Performance and morphology of PIP-DHBA-DHBA and SW30 membranes after chlorine exposure.

Source Data Fig. 4

Performance recovery of fouled PIP-DHBA-DHBA and SW30 membranes after chlorine exposure.

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Yao, Y., Zhang, P., Jiang, C. et al. High performance polyester reverse osmosis desalination membrane with chlorine resistance. Nat Sustain 4, 138–146 (2021).

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