Fouling and long-term durability of an integrated forward osmosis and membrane distillation system

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

An integrated forward osmosis (FO) and membrane distillation (MD) system has great potential for sustainable wastewater reuse. However, the fouling and long-term durability of the system remains largely unknown. This study investigates the fouling behaviour and efficiency of cleaning procedures of FO and MD membranes used for treating domestic wastewater. Results showed that a significant decline in flux of both FO and MD membranes were observed during treatment of wastewater with organic foulants. However, shear force generated by the increased cross-flow physically removed the loosely attached foulants from the FO membrane surface and resulted in 86–88% recovery of flux by cleaning with tap water. For the MD membrane, almost no flux recovery was achieved due to adsorption of organic foulants on the hydrophobic membrane surface, thus indicating significant irreversible fouling/wetting, which may not be effectively cleaned even with chemical reagents. Long-term (10 d) tests showed consistent performance of the FO membrane by rejecting the contaminants. However, organic foulants reduced the hydrophobicity of the MD membrane, caused wetting problems and allowed contaminants to pass through. The results demonstrate that combination of the FO and MD processes can effectively reduce irreversible membrane fouling and solve the wetting problem of the MD membrane.

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