Arsenic Removal via Defect-Free Interfacially-Polymerized Thin-Film Composite Membranes

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Billions of people rely solely on groundwater for drinking and daily use. In the last few decades, groundwater was shown to be contaminated with arsenic in high concentrations, especially in Asian countries such as Bangladesh. Arsenic (As) is ranked the first among 20 toxic substances by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Because many diseases and deaths were linked to consumption of arsenic-contaminated groundwater, the world health organization (WHO) reduced the arsenic standard level for drinking water from 50 to 10 µg L-1. Urgent demands for safe drinking water lead to developing potential technologies for removal of arsenic from groundwater. Arsenic is mainly present as uncharged As(III) in groundwater, which makes it difficult to be efficiently removed by conventional treatment methods. Therefore, membrane technology could be a promising potential solution. Because membrane technology has not been widely tested for arsenic removal, a novel in-house defect-free interfacially-polymerized (IP) cross-linked polyamide thin-film composite (TFC) nanofiltration membrane, namely, PIP-KRO1, was tested in this research. Two commercial TFC membranes, namely Dow NF270 and Sepro RO4, were also tested and compared to PIP-KRO1. The membranes were tested at four different pH conditions (4, 6, 8, and 10) in a cross-flow flat sheet membrane unit. The experiments were divided into two parts: (i) the membranes were tested for water permeance and salt (NaCl) removal and (ii) tested for As(III) removal in the presence of 250 ppm NaCl. The results in this study showed strong size sieving rejection for RO4 and a combination of size sieving and charge exclusion mechanisms for PIP-KRO1 and NF270. In general, the rejection trend was RO4 > PIP-KRO1 > NF270 for both NaCl and As(III). In contrast, the trend for water permeance was NF270 > PIP-KRO1 > RO4. The minimum and maximum salt rejection at pH 4 and pH 10, respectively, were 85 and 98.8% for RO4, 57 and 89% for PIP-KRO1, and 34 and 76.8% for NF270. In addition, the TFC membranes demonstrated a maximum As(III) rejection of 98.7, 69.5, and 46.3% for RO4, PIP-KRO1, and NF270, respectively. Based on the characterizations of the membranes, PIP-KRO1 had the highest cross-linking (N/O ratio) followed by RO4 and NF270, respectively. The same trend was observed for the thickness of the polyamide selective layer (PIP-KRO1 > RO4 > NF270). The zeta potential for NF270 was slightly higher than that for PIP-KRO1; RO4 had much lower membrane surface charge. In terms of surface roughness, the following trend was observed: RO4 > PIP-KRO1 > NF270.
Date of AwardNov 2020
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorIngo Pinnau (Supervisor)


  • Membrane
  • Arsenic
  • Thin-film composite

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