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Reverse osmosis of nonaqueous solutions through porous silica-zirconia membranes



Porous silica-zirconia membranes with pore diameters from 0.8 to 2 nm were prepared by a sol-gel process, and applied to the separation of alcohols (hexanol, octanol, decanol) and alkanes (hexane, decane, tetradecane) in ethanol solutions by reverse osmosis over the temperature range from 25 to 60° C. A silica-zirconia membrane with a pore diameter of 1 nm showed a molecular weight-cut-off (MWCO) of 200 in ethanol solutions. Rejection increased with the applied pressure, for both alcohol and alkane solutes. However, the rejection of alcohols was found to decrease with temperature, while that for alkanes remained nearly constant. The separation characteristics were examined for the following membrane parameters: solvent permeability, Lp, reflection coefficient, σ, and solute permeability, P, based on the Spiegler-Kedem equation. The viscosity of solutions and the diffusivity of alkanes and alcohol solutes in nano-sized pores were found to show a larger temperature dependency than in bulk. The diffusivity of alkane solutes showed the same temperature dependency as the viscosity of ethanol in nano-sized pores, while the diffusivity of alcohol solutes showed a larger temperature dependency than the viscosity of ethanol, probably because of a larger interaction between alcohol solutes and the hydrophilic surface of silica-zirconia membranes. Diffusion experiments were carried out to confirm the temperature dependency of the diffusivities in nano-sized pores. A bilayer model verified that solute permeabilities by reverse osmosis and diffusion experiments were consistent with each other. © 2005 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 2006