Polymeric Microcapsules as Robust Mimics of Emulsion Liquid Membranes for Selective Ion Separations

Jay R. Werber, Colin Peterson, Dean F. Stipanic, Marc A. Hillmyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Selective ion separations are increasingly needed to combat water scarcity, recover resources from wastewater, and enable the efficient recycling of electronics waste. Emulsion liquid membranes (ELMs) have received interest due to rapid kinetics, high selectivities, and low solvent requirements but are too unstable for industrial usage. We demonstrate that polymeric microcapsules can serve as robust, solvent-free mimics of ELMs. As a proof of concept, we incorporated the copper-selective ligand Lix 84-I in the walls of microcapsules formed from a commercial polystyrene-b-polybutadiene-b-polystyrene triblock polymer. The microcapsules were formed from a double-emulsion template, resulting in particles typically 20-120 μm in diameter that encapsulated even smaller droplets of a dilute (≤0.5 M) H2SO4 solution. Batch experiments demonstrated facilitated-transport behavior, with equilibrium reached in as little as 10 min for microcapsules with 1% ligand, and with ∼15-fold selectivity for Cu2+ over Ni2+. Furthermore, the microcapsules could be packed readily in columns for flow-through operation, thus enabling near-complete Cu2+ removal in ∼2 min under certain conditions, recovery of Cu2+ by flowing through fresh dilute H2SO4, and reuse for at least 10 cycles. The approach in this work can serve as a template for using selective ligands to enable robust and simple flow-through processes for a variety of selective ion separations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17352-17363
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 6 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Chemical Society.


  • extraction
  • facilitated transport membranes
  • hydrometallurgy
  • microcapsules
  • resource recovery
  • selective ion separations
  • wastewater treatment


Dive into the research topics of 'Polymeric Microcapsules as Robust Mimics of Emulsion Liquid Membranes for Selective Ion Separations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this