American Chemical Society
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Closing the Sustainable Life Cycle Loop of Membrane Technology via a Cellulose Biomass Platform

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-02-09, 21:30 authored by Hai Yen Nguyen Thi, Sumin Kim, Bao Tran Duy Nguyen, Daseul Lim, Sushil Kumar, Hoik Lee, Gyorgy Szekely, Jeong F. Kim
Membrane technology has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. The rapid growth of membrane technology has been breeding an unavoidable yet critical challengethe unsustainable disposal of used membranes. Commercial polymer membranes are fabricated from fossil-based monomers and polymers that are not biodegradable. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop membranes that are sustainable from cradle to grave, i.e., both bioderived and biodegradable. Cellulose is one of the most abundant biopolymers that are biodegradable upon disposal. However, it is only soluble in a handful of solvents, limiting its fabrication into membranes at an industrial scale. To circumvent this bottleneck, in this work, we propose a sustainable and scalable method to fabricate cellulose membranes from cellulose acetate with a sacrificial acetate group. The proposed method allows cellulose membrane fabrication utilizing green solvents, and the fabrication procedure is sustainable with minimal solvent consumption. One of the most appealing applications of cellulose membranes is organic solvent nanofiltration (OSN). It is an emerging technology to separate solutes in nanoprecision in harsh organic solvents, requiring solvent-stable materials. Surprisingly, the cellulose membranes exhibited unique transport behaviors, with solute rejection ranging from 100 to −100% depending on the solvent medium. Such trends were not previously observed in the OSN literature, and the underlying mechanism was thoroughly investigated. Importantly, the membranes were completely biodegradable in a carbon-neutral manner upon disposal. The life cycle of cellulose membranes was compared with that of conventional OSN membranes in a qualitative and comparative study. The proposed methodology can be applied to substitute fossil-based polymers in all aspects of membrane technology, and it has the potential to become a sustainable fabrication platform for membrane materials.