A novel silver ion-exchange treatment of zeolite was introduced in this work to change the physical and chemical adsorption properties of penetrants in the zeolite. EDX data confirm the complete replacement of sodium ion in zeolite NaA by silver ion, whereas XRD patterns and BET results show no changes in some physical properties of zeolite after the silver ion-exchange treatment. Polyethersulfone (PES)-zeolite NaA mixed matrix membranes (MMMs) and PES–zeolite AgA MMMs were fabricated at high processing temperatures with different zeolite loadings. Cross-sectional SEM images of these two types of MMMs indicate the interface between polymer and zeolite phases is comparable before and after the silver ion-exchange treatment. The effects of silver ion-exchange treatment of zeolite and zeolite loadings on the gas separation performance of these MMMs were investigated. CO2 permeability of PES–zeolite AgA MMMs is higher than that of PES–zeolite NaA MMMs, whereas their CH4 permeability is lower than that of PES–zeolite NaA MMMs. This trend is the result of the reversible reaction between silver ion and CO2 molecule. CO2 and CH4 permeability of PES–zeolite AgA MMMs decreases with increasing zeolite content arising from the effects of partial pore blockage of zeolite and polymer chain rigidification, whereas their CO2/CH4 selectivity increases with an increase in zeolite loadings and the highest value reaches 59.6 at 50 wt % zeolite loading because of a combined effect of the facilitated transport mechanism of silver ion and the molecular sieving mechanism of zeolite. Both CO2-induced plasticization test and CO2/CH4 mixed gas measurement were performed to examine the applicability of these developed PES–zeolite AgA MMMs in industry. Results prove that this type of composite membrane material is a superior candidate for the practical separation of natural gas. © 2007 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 2007
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