Successful implementation of carbon molecular sieve (CMS) membranes in large scale chemical processes inevitably relies on fabrication of high performance integrally skinned asymmetric or thin-film composite membranes. In principle, to maximize separation efficiency the selective CMS layer should be as thin as possible which requires its lateral confinement to a supporting structure. In this work, we studied pyrolysis-induced structural development as well as ethanol vapor-induced swelling of ultrathin CMS films made from a highly aromatic polyimide of an intrinsic microporosity (PIM-PI) precursor. Utilization of a light polarization-sensitive technique, spectroscopic ellipsometry, allowed for the identification of an internal orientation within the turbostratic amorphous CMS structure driven by the laterally constraining support. Our results indicated a significant thickness dependence both in the extent of pyrolytic collapse and response to organic vapor penetrant. Thinner, substrate-confined films (∼30 nm) collapsed more extensively leading to a reduction of microporosity in comparison to their thicker (∼300 nm) as well as self-supported (∼70 μm) counterparts. The reduced microporosity in the thinner films induced changes in the balance between penetrant-induced dilation (swelling) and filling of micropores. In comparison to thicker films, the initial lower microporosity of the thinner films was accompanied by slightly enhanced organic vapor-induced swelling. The presented results are anticipated to generate the fundamental knowledge necessary to design optimized ultrathin CMS membranes. In particular, our results reinforce previous findings that excessive reduction of the selective layer thickness in amorphous microporous materials (such as PIMs or CMS) beyond several hundred nanometers may not be optimal for maximizing their fluid transport performance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Materials Science(all)