In this thesis the properties of thin films from highly sulfonated polyetheretherketone (SPEEK) have been investigated within the context of their application as membranes for the dehydration of compressed carbon dioxide. ‘Better understanding the formation process and its influence on the final internal morphology of the membranes, might help us to determine the exact room for innovation,’ Beata Koziara says. ‘The SPEEK films need to function well under exacting water-saturated supercritical CO2 conditions at relatively elevated temperatures.

During her PhD-work Beata studied a variety of aspects concerning the applicability of SPEEK thin films in membrane-based dehydration processes. The isotropic/anisotropic morphology, swelling behaviour, thermal stability and reinforcement of the membranes using polyols were all dealt with.

Process design

‘We also paid attention to process design,’ Beata says. ‘The choice of a feasible method to remove water from the permeate side still is a challenging one. We simulated and evaluated the usage of low pressure CO2 as a sweep gas, to better understand the principles governing this membrane-based dehydration process.

‘One of the conclusions I have drawn questions the point of using strongly hydrophilic polymers, such as highly sulfonated SPEEK. As permeation of water through the membrane is considerably limited by the concentration polarization effect, less hydrophilic, but more stable membranes, might result in a similar dehydration performance. I am glad my work is taken up in a follow-up research PhD-project at our Group, performed by Andrew Shamu. He will further zoom in on permeation performances at 100 bar conditions, widening his scope beyond SPEEK membranes even.’

Application oriented

The project was part of the Dehydration research theme, initiated by Wetsus European Centre of Excellence for sustainable water technology. Scientific publications appeared in ‘truly applied journals,’ as Beata appoints these: Journal of Materials Science and Macromolecular Materials and Engineering.

‘The reviewers liked the application oriented research questions,’ she says. ‘At the same time they valued the theoretical work, on explaining the main phenomena playing a decisive role here. It reflects the actual state this area of research is in now.’

Follow your heart

During her PhD Beata learned being convinced about her your own research path: gathering information independently, taking responsibility when the project progresses other than planned, and actively talking about the work, looking for collaborations on adjacent themes.

‘Bottom-line is: you are the expert, and other people are really interested in your work and your opinions,’ she says. ‘It is all about following your heart and knowledge.’

Being part of the Membrane Science and Technology Group, Beata did not feel a nano-scientist in the first place. ‘However, I used many equipment facilities that are widely available at Mesa+, such as Raman spectroscopy apparatus. And I was continuously supplied with silicon wafers needed for thin film investigations.’

New things

Beata is now working as an R&D scientist for Hollingworth & Vose company in Germany, specialized in advanced materials for filtration, battery, and industrial applications: ‘Some things will be new, I am sure, such as cooperating with customers in a direct way, focussing more on close-to-market filtration technology or quality control. Unlike academic research, research in industrial R&D is focused on hands-on activities and getting things done, without losing yourself in too much details,’ she says. ‘I am looking forward to that.’