Low-resistance monovalent-selective cation exchange membranes prepared using molecular layer deposition for energy-efficient ion separations†
The desalination of brackish water provides water to tens of millions of people around the world, but current technologies deplete much needed nutrients from the water, which is determinantal to both public health and agriculture. A selective method for brackish water desalination, which retains the needed nutrients, is electrodialysis (ED) using monovalent-selective cation exchange membranes (MVS-CEMs). However, due to the trade-off between membrane selectivity and resistance, most MVS-CEMs demonstrate either high transport resistance or low selectivity, which increase energy consumption and hinder the use of such membranes for brackish water desalination by ED. Here, we introduce a new method for fabrication of MVS-CEMs, using molecular layer deposition (MLD) to coat CEMs with ultrathin, hybrid organic–inorganic, positively charged layers of alucone. Using MLD enabled us to precisely control and minimize the selective layer thickness, while the flexibility and nanoporosity of the alucone prevent cracking and delamination. Under conditions simulating brackish water desalination, the modified CEMs provides monovalent selectivity with negligible added resistance—thereby alleviating the selectivity–resistance trade-off. Addressing the water-energy nexus, MLD-coating enables selective brackish water desalination with minimal increase in energy consumption and opens a new path for tailoring membranes' surface properties.