The main objective of this work was to investigate the effectiveness of ceramic ultrafiltration (UF) membranes with different pore sizes in removing natural organic matter (NOM) from model solutions and drinking water sources. A lab-scale, cross-flow ceramic membrane test unit was used in all experiments. Two different single-channel tubular ceramic membrane modules were tested with average pore sizes of 4 and 10 nm. The impacts of membrane pore size and pressure on permeate flux and the removals of UV280 nm absorbance, specific UV absorbance (SUVA280 nm), and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) were determined. Prior to experiments with model solutions and raw waters, clean water flux tests were conducted. UV280 absorbance reductions ranged between 63 and 83% for all pressures and membranes tested in the raw water. More than 90% of UV280 absorbance reduction was consistently achieved with both membranes in the model NOM solutions. Such high UV absorbance reductions are advantageous due to the fact that UV absorbing sites of NOM are known to be one of the major precursors to disinfection by-products (DBP) such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. For both UF membranes, the ranges of DOC removals in the raw water and model NOM solutions were 55–73% and 79–91%, respectively. SUVA280 value of the raw water decreased from 2 to about 1.5 L/mg-m by both membranes. For the model solutions, SUVA280 values were consistently reduced to ≤1 L/mg-m levels after membrane treatment. As the SUVA280 value of the NOM source increased, the extent of SUVA280 reduction and DOC removal by the tested ceramic UF membranes also increased. The results overall indicated that ceramic UF membranes, especially the one with 4 nm average pore size, appear to be effective in removing organic matter and DBP precursors from drinking water sources with relatively high and sustainable permeate flux values.
Keywords: ceramic membrane, DBPs, drinking water, NOM, ultrafiltration