Engineering Research Center of Environmental Materials and Membrane Technology of Hubei Province, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Wuhan Institute of Technology, Wuhan 430205, China. [Email]
Highly efficient drinking water purification is still an important challenge for membrane techniques where high flux, high rejection, and low fouling are highly emphasized. In the present work, a porous network surface with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) was in situ constructed on hierarchically-structured mullite ceramic membranes. Interestingly, such a composite structure was demonstrated to effectively remove bacteria from drinking water with a highly stable long-term flux. After membrane structure characterizations, separation performance, such as flux and rejection, was assessed by the purification of bacteria-contaminated drinking water. The results confirmed that the mullite-CNT composite membrane claimed a complete removal of two model bacteria (100% rejection of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)), driven by a trans-membrane pressure of 0.1 MPa, where a surface sieving mechanism was dominant. A highly stable long-term flux for the 24 h filtration process was achieved, which can be attributed to the porous membrane surface with a special randomly-oriented CNTs network structure, featuring very high three-dimensional open porosity, allowing water to rapidly transport. The bacteria were only trapped on the CNTs network surface via surface filtration, without pore plugging, endowing the mullite-CNT membrane with unprecedentedly low fouling propensity to keep high flux with long-term operation time.