Enhanced fouling by inorganic and organic foulants on pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) hollow fiber membranes under high pressures

Sicong Chen, Chunfeng Wan, Neal Tai-Shung Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


We have studied, for the first time, the fouling behavior of pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) hollow fiber membranes under low, moderate and high hydraulic pressures. The thin film composite (TFC) polyethersulfone (PES) membrane has a high water permeability and good mechanical strength. Membrane fouling by gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O) scalants, sodium alginate, and the combined foulants was examined under various pressures up to an ultrahigh hydraulic pressure of 18bar. In the combined fouling experiments, the membranes were conditioned by one of foulants followed by the other. Flux decline results suggested that such conditioning could increase the rate of combined fouling because of the change in membrane surface chemistry. Specially, the co-existence of gypsum crystals and alginate under 0bar led to the synergistic combined fouling and resulted in a greater flux decline than the sum of individual fouling. Interestingly, such gypsum-alginate synergistic fouling was not observed under high pressure PRO tests because the increased reverse salt flux inhibited the formation of gypsum crystals. Therefore, alginate fouling could be the dominant fouling mechanism for both (1) alginate conditioning and then scalants fouling, and (2) scalants conditioning and then alginate fouling PRO processes under 8bar and 18bar. Since the reverse salt flux increases from 5.6±1.1g/m2h at 0bar to 74.3±9.7g/m2h at 8bar, and finally to 150.5±2.5g/m2h under 18bar, the reverse salt ions lead to substantial declines of normalized flux under 8bar and 18bar because the reverse sodium ions not only reduce the effective driving force across the PRO membrane but also induce a significant cake-enhanced sodium concentration polarization layer and facilitate alginate gelation near the membrane surface. Therefore, the removal of alginate type foulants from the feed water stream may become essential for the success of PRO processes under high pressures.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-203
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
StatePublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This research is supported by the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore under its Competitive Research Program entitled "Advanced FO Membranes and Membrane Systems for Wastewater Treatment, Water Reuse and Seawater Desalination" (Grant numbers: R-279-000-336-281 and R-278-000-339-281) and by the Singapore National Research Foundation under its Environmental & Water Technologies Strategic Research Programme, administered by the Environment & Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) of the PUB under the project titled "Membrane Development for Osmotic Power Generation, Part 1, Materials Development and Membrane Fabrication" (1102-IRIS-11-01) and NUS Grant number R-279-000-381-279. The author, Si Cong Chen, would also thank the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences & Engineering for the financial support of her Ph.D. study. Si Cong Chen also expresses thanks to Professor Gary L. Amy for his kindly help.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Filtration and Separation
  • General Materials Science
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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