Towards sustainable circular brine reclamation using seawater reverse osmosis, membrane distillation and forward osmosis hybrids: An experimental investigation

Hyuk Soo Son, Sofiane Soukane, Junggil Lee, Youngjin Kim, Young-Deuk Kim, NorEddine Ghaffour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Desalination and wastewater treatment technologies require an effective solution for brine management to ensure environmental sustainability, which is closely linked with efficient process operations, reduction of chemical dosages, and valorization of brines. Within the scope of desalination brine reclamation, a circular system consisting of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO), membrane distillation (MD), and forward osmosis (FO) three-process hybrid is investigated. The proposed design increases water recovery from SWRO brine (by MD) and dilutes concentrated brine to seawater level (by FO) for SWRO feed. It ultimately reduces SWRO process brine disposal and improves crystallization efficiency for a zero-liquid discharge application. The operating range of the hybrid system is indicated by a seawater volumetric concentration factor (VCF) ranging from 1.0 to 2.2, which covers practical and sustainable operation in full-scale applications. Within the proposed VCF range, different operating conditions of the MD and FO processes were evaluated in series with concentrated seawater as well as real SWRO brine from a full-scale desalination plant. Water quality and membrane surface were analyzed before and after experiments to assess the impact of the SWRO brine. Despite their low concentration (0.13 mg/L as phosphorous), antiscalants present in SWRO brine alleviated the flux decline in MD operations by 68.3% compared to operations using seawater concentrate, while no significant influence was observed on the FO process. A full spectrum of water quality analysis of real SWRO brine and Red Sea water is made available for future SWRO brine reclamation studies. The operating conditions and experimental results have shown the potential of the SWRO-MD-FO hybrid system for a circular brine reclamation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112836
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - May 27 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-11-21
Acknowledgements: The research reported in this paper was supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia. The authors acknowledge the help, assistance, and support from the Water Desalination and Reuse Center (WDRC) staff.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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