Fouling is a critical issue in membrane process operation as it greatly compromises the efficiency of the treatment processes. A promising approach to overcome this problem is the production of easy-to-clean membranes by incorporating stimuli-responsive pores. In this study, we fabricated thermo-responsive polystyrene-b-poly(N-isopropyl acrylamide) (PS-b-PNIPAM) block copolymer membranes using the self-assembly and non-solvent induced phase separation (SNIPS) method and systematically varied several membrane casting parameters, i.e. evaporation time, polymer concentration, solvent type and water content, to obtain nano- and isoporous membranes. Membranes with a disordered surface were obtained for PS selective solvents, whereas isoporous membranes were obtained when the block copolymers were dissolved in PNIPAM selective solvent mixtures. Using 1,4-dioxane/ tetrahydrofuran mixtures resulted in isoporous membranes for a large parameter space, indicating the robustness of structure formation in the PS-b-PNIPAM system. Permeability tests at various temperatures demonstrated fully reversible thermo-responsive behavior of the membranes.
- Block copolymer self-assembly
- Fully reversible thermo-responsive nanoporous isoporous block copolymer membranes
- PS-PNIPAM block copolymers
- RAFT polymerization
- Self-assembly and non-solvent induced phase separation (SNIPS) method