An evaluation of the performance of polyelectrolyte-modified nanofiber membranes was undertaken to determine their efficacy in the rapid uptake and recovery of heavy metals from impaired waters. The membranes were prepared by grafting poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) and poly(itaconic acid) (PIA) to cellulose nanofiber mats. Performance measurements quantified the dynamic ion-exchange capacity for cadmium (Cd), productivity, and recovery of Cd(II) from the membranes by regeneration. The dynamic binding capacities of Cd(II) on both types of nanofiber membrane were independent of the linear flow velocity, with a residence time of as low as 2 s. Analysis of breakthrough curves indicated that the mass flow rate increased rapidly at constant applied pressure after membranes approached equilibrium load capacity for Cd(II), apparently due to a collapse of the polymer chains on the membrane surface, leading to an increased porosity. This mechanism is supported by hydrodynamic radius (Rh
) measurements for PAA and PIA obtained from dynamic light scattering, which show that Rh
values decrease upon Cd(II) binding. Volumetric productivity was high for the nanofiber membranes, and reached 0.55 mg Cd/g/min. The use of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid as regeneration reagent was effective in fully recovering Cd(II) from the membranes. Ion-exchange capacities were constant over five cycles of binding-regeneration.
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