Cleaning protocol for a FO membrane fouled in wastewater reuse

Rodrigo Valladares Linares, Zhenyu Li, Victor Yangali-Quintanilla, Qingyu Li, Gary L. Amy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Forward osmosis (FO) is an emerging technology which can be applied in water reuse applications. Osmosis is a natural process that involves less energy consumption than reverse osmosis (RO), and therefore can be applied as a dilution process before low-pressure RO; it is expected to compete favourably against current advanced water reuse technologies that use microfiltration/ultrafiltration and RO. The focus of this research was to assess the efficiency of different cleaning procedures to remove fouling from the surface of a FO membrane during the operation of a submerged system working in FO-mode (active layer (AL) facing feed solution) intended for secondary wastewater effluent (SWWE) recovery, using seawater as draw solution (DS), which will be diluted and can further be fed to a low-pressure RO unit to produce fresh water. Natural organic matter (NOM) fouling was expected to affect the AL, while for the support layer (SL), transparent exopolymer particles (TEP) were used as indicators of fouling due to their stickiness and propensity to enhance the attachment of other foulants in seawater on the membrane surface. The composition of the NOM fouling layer was determined after proper characterisation with a liquid chromatograph coupled with organic carbon detection (LC-OCD), showing biopolymers and protein-like substances as the main constituents. NOM fouling showed high hydraulic reversibility after a 25% flux decline was observed, up to 89.5% when in situ air scouring for 15 min was used as a cleaning technique. Chemical cleaning with a mixture of Alconox, an industrial detergent containing phosphates, and sodium EDTA showed to increase the reversibility (93.6%). Osmotic backwash using a 4% NaCl solution and DI water proved to be ineffective to recover flux due to the salt diffusion phenomena occurring at the AL. Part of the flux that could not be recovered is attributable to TEP fouling on the SL, which forms clusters clearly identifiable with an optical microscope and TEP-specific dyeing/staining of the membrane. Two solutions were tested to clean in place of the SL: a 1% NaOCl solution and the same detergent solution used to clean the AL. The former agent compromised the integrity of the FO membrane, as proved with flux and conductivity measurements; 94.5% of flux was recovered with the latter agent, showing that chemically irreversible fouling for the FO membrane is on the order of 5.5%, which might be associated with the adsorption of biopolymers on the AL and some TEP residuals on the SL. Physical cleaning (air scouring) of the AL proved to be the most effective way to control fouling. © 2013 Copyright Balaban Desalination Publications.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4821-4824
Number of pages4
JournalDesalination and Water Treatment
Issue number25-27
StatePublished - Jun 3 2013

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ocean Engineering


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