Surface Functionalization of Thin-Film Composite Membranes with Copper Nanoparticles for Antimicrobial Surface Properties

Moshe Ben-Sasson, Katherine R. Zodrow, Qi Genggeng, Yan Kang, Emmanuel P. Giannelis, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

315 Scopus citations


Biofouling is a major operational challenge in reverse osmosis (RO) desalination, motivating a search for improved biofouling control strategies. Copper, long known for its antibacterial activity and relatively low cost, is an attractive potential biocidal agent. In this paper, we present a method for loading copper nanoparticles (Cu-NPs) on the surface of a thin-film composite (TFC) polyamide RO membrane. Cu-NPs were synthesized using polyethyleneimine (PEI) as a capping agent, resulting in particles with an average radius of 34 nm and a copper content between 39 and 49 wt.%. The positive charge of the Cu-NPs imparted by the PEI allowed a simple electrostatic functionalization of the negatively charged RO membrane. We confirmed functionalization and irreversible binding of the Cu-NPs to the membrane surface with SEM and XPS after exposing the membrane to bath sonication. We also demonstrated that Cu-NP functionalization can be repeated after the Cu-NPs dissolve from the membrane surface. The Cu-NP functionalization had minimal impact on the intrinsic membrane transport parameters. Surface hydrophilicity and surface roughness were also maintained, and the membrane surface charge became positive after functionalization. The functionalized membrane exhibited significant antibacterial activity, leading to an 80-95% reduction in the number of attached live bacteria for three different model bacterial strains. Challenges associated with this functionalization method and its implementation in RO desalination are discussed. © 2013 American Chemical Society.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)384-393
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 13 2013
Externally publishedYes


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