Dynamics of water and solute transport in polymeric reverse osmosis membranes via molecular dynamics simulations

Meng Shen, Sinan Keten, Richard M. Lueptow*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


The Ångström-scale transport characteristics of water and six different solutes, methanol, ethanol, 2-propanol, urea, Na+, and Cl-, were studied for a polyamide reverse osmosis (RO) membrane, FT-30, using non-equilibrium molecular dynamics (NEMD) simulations. Results indicate that water transport increases with an increasing fraction of connected percolated free volume, or water-accessible open space, in the membrane polymer structure. This free volume is enhanced by the dynamic structure of the membrane at the molecular level as it swells when hydrated and vibrates due to molecular collisions allowing a continuous path connecting the opposite membrane surfaces. The tortuous paths available for transport of solutes result in Brownian motion of solute molecules and hopping from pore to pore as they pass through the polymer network structure of the membrane. The transport of alcohol solutes decreases for solutes with larger Van der Waals volume, which corresponds to less available percolated free volume, or solute-accessible space, within the membrane polymer structure. However, the Van der Waals size of the dehydrated solutes is generally not a good measure to predict solute transport or rejection. Urea has reduced transport compared to ethanol, most likely due to more complex chemistry, even though urea has a smaller Van der Waals volume than ethanol. Na+ and Cl- experience the lowest transport, likely due to strong ion-water and ion-ion electrostatic interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
StatePublished - May 15 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation

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