Know How
Ultrafiltration Systems

        Ultrafiltration (UF) is a membrane separation technique used to separate extremely small particles and dissolved molecules in fluids. The primary basis for separation is molecular size, although other factors such as molecule shape and charge can also play a role. Molecules larger than the membrane pores will be retained at the surface of the membrane (not in the polymer matrix as they are retained in microporous membranes) and concentrated during the ultrafiltration process.

Compared to other membrane processes (Reverse osmosis, Nano Filtration, Microfiltration), ultrafiltration:

  • Wide range for molecules to be processed
  • Requires less pretreatment
  • Maintains the ionic and pH
  • Is fast and relatively inexpensive
  • Can be performed at low temperatures (for example, in the cold room)
  • Is very efficient and can simultaneously concentrate and purify molecules.

The retention properties of ultrafiltration membranes are expressed as Molecular Weight Cutoff (MWCO). This value refers to the approximate molecular weight (MW) of a dilute globular solute (i.e., a paint application) which is 90% retained by the membrane. However, a molecule’s shape can have a direct effect on its retention by a membrane. For example, linear molecules like DNA may find their way through pores that will retain a globular species of the same molecular weight.

There are three generic applications for ultrafiltration:

1. Concentration. Ultrafiltration is a very convenient method for the concentration of dilute paint or dyes and other samples. It is gentle and is very efficient (usually over 90% recovery).

2. Desalting and Buffer Exchange (Diafiltration). Ultrafiltration provides a very convenient and efficient way to remove or exchange salts, remove detergents, separate free from bound molecules, remove low molecular weight materials, or rapidly change the ionic or pH environment.

3. Fractionation. Ultrafiltration will not accomplish a sharp separation of two molecules with similar molecular weights. The molecules to be separated should differ by at least one order of magnitude (10X) in size for effective separation. Fractionation using ultrafiltration is effective in applications such as the preparation of protein-free filtrates, separation of unbound or unincorporated label from DNA and protein samples, and the purification of PCR products from synthesis reactions.

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