Characteristics of water and salt transport, free volume and their relationship with the functional groups of novel cellulose esters

Rui Chin Ong, Tai Shung Chung*, Bradley J. Helmer, Jos S. De Wit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Fundamental transport properties including salt and water partition coefficients, permeability and diffusivity of various newly synthesized cellulose esters were evaluated in this study in order to investigate the relationship among them as a function of molecular structure. Dense flat cellulose ester films were prepared and studied so that the influence of membrane fabrication, morphology and processing history on transport properties can be minimized. Positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy (PALS) was employed to characterize the free volume of these cellulose esters. It was found that the transport and free volume properties can be correlated with the functional groups and their content in cellulose esters. High hydroxyl content leads to a high hydrophilicity hence resulting in a high water and salt partition coefficient. Hydrophilic cellulose esters suffer from low water/salt selectivity. On the other hand, an increase in bulky and hydrophobic propionyl or butyryl groups generally enhances cellulose esters' selectivity but brings down the permeability. However, a very high content of bulky functional group causes a drop in selectivity due to poor chain packing and the enlarged free volume as confirmed by PALS. Experimental results suggest that cellulose esters with moderate content of both hydroxyl and bulky side groups have the best diffusivity selectivity and may be suitable as membrane materials for salty water separation. An upper bound relationship between solubility selectivity and water partition coefficient was also observed in these cellulose esters as suggested in previous literature for other polymers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4560-4569
Number of pages10
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 2 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Eastman Chemical Company , USA for the research funding and the provision of the synthesized novel cellulose esters through the project titled “Investigation of Novel Materials for the Forward Osmosis Process” (grant number R-279-000-315-597 ) as well as the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF) for the support through the Competitive Research Program for the project titled “New Advanced FO Membranes and Membrane Systems for Wastewater Treatment, Water Reuse and Seawater Desalination” (grant number R-279-000-336-281 ). Special thanks are due to Prof. Donald Paul, Dr. Sui Zhang, Dr. Jincai Su, Ms. Xue Li and Dr. Natalia Widjojo for their valuable advice. Thanks are also due to Ms. Nguyen Thi Mai Thao, Ellie for her kind assistance in this work.


  • Cellulose ester
  • Forward osmosis
  • Permeability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry


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