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Cross-Flow Filtration 281 4.1 Polymeric Microfilters and Ultrafilters

Symmetric polymeric membranes possess a uniform pore structure over the entire thickness. These membranes can be porous or dense with a constant permeability from one surface to the other. Asymmetric (also sometimes referred to as anisotropic) membranes, on the other hand, typically show a dense (nonporous) structure with a thin (0.1-0.5 jam) surface layer supported on a porous substrate. The thin surface layer maximizes the flux and performs the separation. The microporous support structure provides the mechanical strength.

Polymeric membranes are prepared from a variety of materials using several different production techniques. Table 5 summarizes a partial list of the various polymer materials used in the manufacture of cross-flow filters for both MF and UF applications. For microfiltration applications, typically symmetric membranes are used. Examples include polyethylene, polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane. These can be produced by stretching, molding and sintering finegrained and partially crystalline polymers. Polyester and polycarbonate membranes are made using irradiation and etching processes and polymers such as polypropylene, polyamide, cellulose acetate and polysulfone membranes are produced by the phase inversion process.[1][7][8]

Ultrafiltration membranes are usually asymmetric and are also made from a variety of materials but are primarily made by the phase inversion process. In the phase inversion process, a homogeneous liquid phase consisting of a polymer and a solvent is converted into a two-phase system. The polymer is precipitated as a solid phase (through a change in temperature, solvent evaporation or addition of a precipitant) and the liquid phase forms the pore system. UF membranes currently on the market are also made from a variety of materials, including polyvinylidene fluoride, polyacrylonitrile, polyethersulfone and polysulfone.

Microfiltration membranes are characterized by bubble point and pore size distribution whereas the UF membranes are typically described by their molecular weight cutoff (MWCO) value. The bubble point pressure relates to the largest pore opening in the membrane layer. This is measured with the help of a bubble point apparatus.I1][9] The average pore diameter of a MF membrane is determined by measuring the pressure at which a steady stream of bubbles is observed. For MF membranes, bubble point pressures vary depending on the pore diameter and nature of membrane material (e.g., hydrophobic or hydrophilic). For example, bubble point values for 0.1 to 0.8 |im pore diameter membranes are reported to vary from 1 bar (equals about

14.5 psi) to 15 bar.[1] However, due to the limited mechanical resistance of some membrane geometries (e.g., tubular and to some extent hollow fiber) such measurements cannot be performed for smaller pore diameter MF and UF membranes. The bubble point apparatus can also be used to determine the pore size distribution of the membrane.

Table 5. Polymeric Microfilters and Ultrafilters

Material

Mlcrofilter

Ultrafilter

Configuration

Acrylic polymer

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