The suitability of three vapor deposition techniques for pore size modification was evaluated using polycarbonate track etched membranes as model supports. A feature scale model was employed to predict the pore geometry after modification and the resulting pure water flux. Physical vapor deposition (PVD) and pulsed plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD), naturally, form asymmetric nanopores that retain high flux as pore size is reduced. But PVD-modified supports exhibited poor control and reproducibility. In contrast, pulsed PECVD and plasma-enhanced atomic layer deposition (PEALD) were shown to deliver digital control over pore size. Moreover, good agreement was obtained between model predictions and flux measurements. Exposure limitations during PEALD introduce a degree of asymmetry, though net growth rates were 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than pulsed PECVD and PVD. Filtration experiments using bovine serum albumin as a model solute showed that pulsed PECVD-modified membranes can be engineered to simultaneously deliver both high flux and high selectivity. For example, pulsed PECVD-modified supports were demonstrated to deliver high retention (~ 75%) while maintaining 70% of their initial pure water flux.
• Nanopore membranes modified by PVD, ALD, and pulsed PECVD.
• Feature scale model used to design membranes and analyze performance.
• Pulsed PECVD forms asymmetric membranes with nanoscale control.
• The membranes have high pure water fluxes and good protein rejection.