Natural river water is comprised of different foulant components such as natural organic matter and colloidal/particulate matter. Both individual and combined contributions of these foulant components results in different fouling behaviour. The ability to characterize these contributions that lead to reversible and irreversible membrane fouling would be beneficial for the implementation of fouling monitoring and control strategies for membrane-based drinking water treatment operations. A fluorescence excitation-emission matrix and principal component analysis-based approach was able to qualitatively estimate the accumulation of humic substances (HS)-, protein- and colloidal/particulate matter-like foulant components in membranes during the ultrafiltration (UF) of natural river water. A bench-scale flat sheet UF cross-flow set-up and successive permeation and membrane backwashing cycles were used. Analysis of the accumulation of these foulant components revealed that the increased levels of colloidal/particulate matter accumulation in the membranes appeared to have increased the extent of irreversible fouling by HS-like matter whereas lower irreversible fouling by protein-like matter was observed with increased colloidal/particulate matter accumulation. The results also indicate that the combined contributions by these foulants are important in the fouling of membranes during the UF of river water.
Keywords: membrane fouling, natural organic matter (NOM), fluorescence spectroscopy, principal component analysis (PCA), drinking water