This research is focused on characterizing the foulants on a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane taken from a full-scale leachate treatment plant in Thailand. The system consists of a physico-chemical pre-treatment unit and RO system and has been in operation for 2 years. Ferric chloride (FeCl3) was added to the open-jet sedimentation tank at 2.0–2.5 g/l dosage for chemical coagulation. The supernatant from the sedimentation tank was polished using a pressurized sand filter prior to entering the RO system. The RO unit consists of seven pressurized vessels and 42 membrane elements (6 elements in each vessel). The recovery ratio and operating pressure in the RO system were maintained at 50% and 1.5–2.5 MPa. Fouled membranes obtained from short-term (6 months) and long-term operation (2 years) were taken from the system and analyzed by autopsy and sequential cleaning methods. The analysis of foulants on the membrane surfaces revealed that Fe deposits at 3.11 g/m2. For short-term operated membranes, water cleaning could recover 32.14 and 7.45% of initial pure water flux on the 1st and 6th membrane elements. NaOH cleaning, however, recovered more than 90% of initial flux, much higher than that of HCl solution in both elements. For long-term operated membranes, pure water flux recovery was below 5% for both 1st and 6th elements. Sequential cleaning by NaOH followed by HCl yielded the best results. Nevertheless, flux recovery through sequential cleaning of long-term operated membranes was only 35.3 and 19.1% for the 1st and the 6th elements, respectively.
Keywords: flux recovery, fouling, leachate treatment, reverse osmosis, sequential cleaning