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The use of membranes for treatment of both potable water and wastewater is on the increase. Several factors are responsible for this trend, among them the decreasing cost of membrane equipment; increased concern for pathogen removal; use of less desirable source water, with higher total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations; and the growing practice of using reclaimed wastewater treatment plant effluent. The disposal of the waste streams generated in membrane treatment, can pose a difficult problem.

Results of surveys indicate that a common method of brine disposal is to discharge it to a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Since the brine generated in membrane treatment has a high TDS content, it can interfere with wastewater settling; inhibit biological processes; and impacts to aquatic toxicity testing, all of which limit the options for disposal or reuse of the water. In addition, the NPDES permits of many WWTPs contain limits on TDS or on specific ions. Brines high in TDS can also aggravate the corrosion of collection system piping and treatment plant process equipment. Because of these adverse impacts, treatment facilities are requesting brine dischargers to examine alternative methods of disposal.

Traditional alternatives to discharging the brine to a WWTP include evaporation ponds, deep well injection, and mechanical evaporation. Evaporation ponds have long been used to decrease the volume of the brine concentrate to the point of crystallization, making it possible to handle the TDS precipitates as a solid material. This practice is limited because of its large site requirements, which makes it practicable only in arid climates. Deep well injection and mechanical evaporation are capital-intensive as well as having high operation and maintenance costs. There is no ideal low-cost method of brine disposal except ocean discharge, which does not help facilities that are not close to an ocean.

Consequently, alternative brine treatment technologies are being investigated, among them include the following:

Freeze concentration – directional freezing of brine concentrating the nonfrozen portion of the liquid, which results in a desalted ice fraction.

Mechanical evaporation – use of mechanical energy to accelerate the evaporation process thus reducing space requirements.

Beneficial reuse of the brine – using the brine stream as a sodium source for on-site generation of sodium hypochlorite.

This paper reviews the issues related to brine disposal at WWTPs and the available alternative methods, and presents the advantages and disadvantages for each. An opinion of the capital and operating costs for each alternative will also be presented.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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