Control of biofouling on reverse osmosis polyamide membranes modified with biocidal nanoparticles and antifouling polymer brushes
Thin-film composite (TFC) polyamide reverse osmosis (RO) membranes are prone to biofouling due to their inherent physicochemical surface properties. In order to address the biofouling problem, we have developed novel surface coatings functionalized with biocidal silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) and antifouling polymer brushes via polyelectrolyte layer-by-layer (LBL) self-assembly. The novel surface coating was prepared with polyelectrolyte LBL films containing poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) and poly(ethylene imine) (PEI), with the latter being either pure PEI or silver nanoparticles coated with PEI (Ag–PEI). The coatings were further functionalized by grafting of polymer brushes, using either hydrophilic poly(sulfobetaine) or low surface energy poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS). The presence of both LBL films and sulfobetaine polymer brushes at the interface significantly increased the hydrophilicity of the membrane surface, while PDMS brushes lowered the membrane surface energy. Overall, all surface modifications resulted in significant reduction of irreversible bacterial cell adhesion. In microbial adhesion tests with E. coli bacteria, a normalized cell adhesion in the range of only 4 to 16% on the modified membrane surfaces was observed. Modified surfaces containing silver nanoparticles also exhibited strong antimicrobial activity. Membranes coated with LBL films of PAA/Ag–PEI achieved over 95% inactivation of bacteria attached to the surface within 1 hour of contact time. Both the antifouling and antimicrobial results suggest the potential of using these novel surface coatings in controlling the fouling of RO membranes.