Size fractionation of aquatic colloids and particles by cross-flow filtration: analysis by scanning electron and atomic force mcroscopy

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The suitability of the combined application of environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) for the evaluation of the ability of cross-flow filtration (CFF) to perform adequate size fractionation of freshwater colloids and particles was examined. ESEM and SEM imaging provided reference images of the CFF-generated fractions and, in estimating the experimental cut-off diameter of the membrane, provided evidence that separation was not consistent with nominal pore sizes of the membranes. However, analysis of the images showed that size distribution of CFF-generated fractions and the estimated cut-off diameter of the membranes were dependent on the advantages and limitations of the two imaging techniques. With both ESEM and SEM, best estimates of size cut-offs were lower than the nominal pore size of the membrane in the case of 0.45 mum membranes, but roughly accurate in the case of 0.1 mum pore size membranes. The results also suggested that the effectiveness of CFF may benefit from a pre-separation step using a minimally perturbing technique such as split thin-flow fractionation. AFM demonstrated the presence of colloids smaller than 50 nm in all fractions including the retentates, showing that CFF fractionation is not fully quantitative and not based on size alone. The results indicate that previous studies investigating trace element partitioning using CFF may need re-evaluation as the importance of particles and large colloids may be over-estimated. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-71
Number of pages13
JournalAnalytica Chimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


  • aquatic colloids and particles, atomic force microscopy, electron microscopy, cross-flow filtration, fractionation