Karnik, B.S., Baumann, M.J., Masten, S.J. et al. J Mater Sci (2006) 41: 6861. doi:10.1007/s10853-006-0943-5
Alumina–zirconia–titania (AZT) ceramic membranes coated with iron oxide nanoparticles have been shown to improve water quality by significantly reducing the concentration of disinfection by-product precursors, and in the case of membrane filtration combined with ozonation, to reduce ozonation by-products such as aldehydes, ketones and ketoacids. Commercially available ceramic membranes with a nominal molecular weight cut-off of 5 kilodaltons (kD) were coated 20, 30, 40 or 45 times with sol suspension processed Fe2O3 nanoparticles having an average diameter of 4–6 nm. These coated membranes were sintered in air at 900 °C for 30 min. The effects of sintering and coating layer thickness on the microstructure of the ceramic membranes were characterized using atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS). AFM images show a decreasing roughness after iron oxide coating with an average surface roughness of ∼161 nm for the uncoated and ∼130 nm for the coated membranes. SEM showed that as the coating thickness increased, the microstructure of the coating changed from a fine grained (average grain size of ∼27 nm) morphology at 20 coating layers to a coarse grained (average grain size of ∼66 nm) morphology at 40 coating layers with a corresponding increase in the average pore size from ∼57 nm to ∼120 nm. Optimum water quality was achieved at 40 layers, which corresponds to a surface coating morphology consisting of a uniform, coarse-grained structure with open, nano-sized interconnected pores.