Functional surfaces and polymers with branched structures have a major impact on physicochemical properties and performance of membrane materials. With the aim of greener approach for enhancement of permeation, fouling resistance and detrimental heavy metal ion rejection capacity of polyetherimide membrane, novel grafting of poly (4-styrenesulfonate) brushes on low cost, natural bentonite was carried out via distillation-precipitation polymerisation method and employed as a performance modifier. It has been demonstrated that, modified bentonite clay exhibited significant improvement in the hydrophilicity, porosity, and water uptake capacity with 3 wt. % of additive dosage. SEM and AFM analysis showed the increase in macrovoides and surface roughness with increased additive concentration. Moreover, the inclusion of modified bentonite displayed an increase in permeation rate and high anti-irreversible fouling properties with reversible fouling ratio of 75.6%. The humic acid rejection study revealed that, PEM-3 membrane having rejection efficiency up to 87.6% and foulants can be easily removed by simple hydraulic cleaning. Further, nanocomposite membranes can be significantly employed for the removal of hazardous heavy metal ions with a rejection rate of 80% and its tentative mechanism was discussed. Conspicuously, bentonite clay-bearing poly (4-styrenesulfonate) brushes are having a synergistic effect on physicochemical properties of nanocomposite membrane to enhance the performance in real field applications.
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