The possibility of employing a zeolite nano-membrane for seawater desalination is studied using comprehensive molecular dynamics simulations. Two types of zeolite with different wetting properties, the hydrophilic FAU and hydrophobic MFI, are used as the reverse osmosis (RO) membrane. Both can reach nearly 100% rejection of salt ions, and when the membrane thickness is smaller than 3.5 nm, the permeability is about 2 × 10-9 m Pa -1 s-1, which is two orders of magnitude higher than that of the commercial state-of-the-art RO membrane. The relation between the permeability and thickness of the zeolite membrane is studied through the pressure drop-flux dependence. The pressure drop is linearly dependent on the thickness of the zeolite membrane. As the thickness approaches nanoscale, the end effect of water molecules entering the zeolite membrane has apparent influence on the pressure drop. For the FAU membrane the hydrophilicity can assist the water molecules entering the nanopore with reduced pressure drop, while for the hydrophobic MFI zeolite additional pressure drop arises from the capillary resistance. In order to sustain the pressure drop during desalination, the nanoscale zeolite membrane should be placed on a porous substrate and the ratio of the thickness of the nano-membrane to the radius of the supporting pore in the substrate should be properly optimized.
The study is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (11172231), DARPA (W91CRB-11-C-0112), the World Class University program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (R32-2008-000-20042-0), and the National Science Foundation (CMMI-0643726).
- Seawater desalination
- Nanoscale zeolite membrane
- Reverse osmosis
- High permeability