The Critical Need for Increased Selectivity, Not Increased Water Permeability, for Desalination Membranes

Jay Werber, Akshay Deshmukh, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

298 Scopus citations


Desalination membranes are essential for the treatment of unconventional water sources, such as seawater and wastewater, to alleviate water scarcity. Promising research efforts on novel membrane materials may yield significant performance gains over state-of-the-art thin-film composite (TFC) membranes, which are constrained by the permeability-selectivity trade-off. However, little guidance currently exists on the practical impact of such performance gains, namely enhanced water permeability or enhanced water-solute selectivity. In this critical review, we first discuss the performance of current TFC membranes. We then highlight and provide context for recent module-scale modeling studies that have found limited impact of increased water permeability on the efficiency of desalination processes. Next we cover several important examples of water treatment processes in which inadequate membrane selectivity hinders process efficacy. We conclude with a brief discussion of how the need for enhanced selectivity may influence the design strategies of future membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-120
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 12 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the support received form the National Science Foundation through the Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (ERC-1449500) and via Grant CBET 1437630.


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