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Structure and Gas Transport at the Polymer–Zeolite Interface: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulations

Dutta, Ravi C., Bhatia, Suresh K.
ACS applied materials & interfaces 2018 v.10 no.6 pp. 5992-6005
adsorption, asymmetric membranes, carbon dioxide, methane, molecular dynamics, permeability, polymers, simulation models, sorption isotherms, temperature, zeolites
We investigate the structure of polyimide (PI) at the surface of a silicalite zeolite (MFI), as part of a model hybrid organic–inorganic mixed matrix membrane system, through equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations. Furthermore, we report a comparison of the adsorption and transport characteristics of pure components CO₂ and CH₄ in PI, MFI, and PI-MFI composite membranes. It is seen that incorporation of MFI zeolite into PI results in the formation of densified polymer layers (rigidified region) near the surface, having thickness around 1.2 nm, before bulklike behavior of the polymer is attained, contrary to empirical fits suggesting the existence of an approximately 1 μm thick interface between the polymer and filler. This region offers an extra resistance to gas diffusion especially for the gas with a larger kinetic diameter, CH₄, thus improving the CO₂/CH₄ kinetic selectivity in the PI-MFI composite membrane. Furthermore, we find that the kinetic selectivity of CO₂ over CH₄ in the rigidified region increases with temperature and that additivity of transport resistances in MFI, interfacial layer, and bulklike region of the polymer satisfactorily explains transport behavior in the composite sandwich investigated. The gas adsorption isotherms are extracted considering the dynamics and structural transitions in the PI and PI-MFI composite upon gas adsorption, and it is seen that the rigidified layer affects the gas adsorption in the polymer in the PI-MFI hybrid system. A significant increase in CO₂/CH₄ selectivity as well as gas permeability is observed in the PI-MFI composite membrane compared to that in the pure PI polymer membrane, which is correlated with the high selectivity of the rigidified interfacial layer in the polymer. Thus, while enhancing transport resistance, the rigidified layer is beneficial to membrane selectivity, leading to improved performance based on the Robeson upper bound plot for polymers.