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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantitative Characterization of a Desalination Membrane Model System by X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy.


Aromatic polyamide films form the active layer in reverse osmosis desalination membranes. Despite widespread use of this technology, it suffers from low rejection rates for certain water contaminants and from membrane fouling. Through a better understanding of the fundamental surface chemical processes during reverse osmosis desalination, advances in membrane and material design are expected. The recent invention of a molecular layer-by-layer (mLbL) preparation technique [ Johnson , P. M. ; Molecular Layer-by-Layer Deposition of Highly Crosslinked Polyamide Films . J. Polym. Sci., Part B: Polym. Phys. 2012 , 50 ( 3 ), 168 - 173 ] yields films that are sufficiently smooth to warrant investigation with high-resolution microscopy and spectroscopy methods. We present high-resolution, quantitative X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) data on the surface chemistry of ultrathin polyamide films that can serve as a model system for desalination membranes. We show that a quantitative analysis of the XPS spectra gives information about the functional groups of the film as well as other compounds present due to the synthesis under ambient conditions. Unpolymerized functional groups are identified and aid in understanding the degree of cross-linking. Investigation of polymers with synchrotron-based XPS requires taking beam-induced changes into account. We quantify X-ray beam damage and show that beam damage to the polyamide is limited, allowing long-term investigation of thin polyamide films. Characterizing mLbL-grown films via high-resolution XPS is the basis for a better understanding of the chemical interplay of polyamide surface functional groups with the major components of desalination systems.

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