The influence of surface modification of zirconia (ZrO2
) membrane with tethered poly(vinyl pyrrolidone) (PVP) chains was evaluated with respect to the impact of pH and ionic strength on hydraulic resistance and fouling resistance in the filtration of bovine serum albumin (BSA) and lysozyme (Lys) as model protein foulants. The tethered PVP surface layer led to membrane permeability and fouling propensity that were responsive to both pH and ionic strength. The PVP-modified membrane (PVP-ZrO2
) hydraulic resistance increased by up to ~48% over a pH range of 6–11, but with no discernible impact at lower pH. Membrane hydraulic resistance was virtually unaffected by ionic strength over the 0.001–1 M range. However, reversible foulant cake resistance in BSA and Lys solution filtration increased with elevated ionic strength, owing in part to the weakening of protein–protein repulsion. Irreversible BSA and Lys fouling was affected by the operational pH relative to the protein isoelectric point (IEP) and reduced under conditions of chain swelling. Irreversible membrane fouling resistance for both proteins was significantly lower, by ~11–49% and 18–74%, respectively, for the PVP-ZrO2
membrane relative to the unmodified ZrO2
membrane. The present results suggest the merit of further exploration of fouling reduction and improvement of membrane cleaning effectiveness via tuning pH and ionic strength triggered conformational responsiveness of the tethered target polymer layer.
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