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Addressing Reverse Osmosis Fouling within Water Reclamation—A Side-By-Side Comparison of Low-Pressure Membrane Pretreatments

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A tertiary membrane filtration (TMF) pilot operating on secondary effluent and a membrane bioreactor (MBR) were setup in a side-by-side study as pretreatments for two identical reverse osmosis pilot systems. The water quality of the permeate from both low-pressure membrane pretreatment systems and the fouling rate of the reverse osmosis systems were compared to assess the capabilities of the two low-pressure membrane pretreatments to prevent organic fouling of the reverse osmosis systems. Both pretreatment pilots were setup using typical operating conditions (i.e., solids retention time and mixed-liquor suspended solids). A consistent difference in water quality and reverse osmosis performance was demonstrated during the 12-month study. The MBR permeate consistently had significantly lower total organic carbon (TOC) and chemical oxygen demand concentrations, but higher color and specific UV absorbance compared with the permeate from the TMF pretreatment. The pretreatment with the MBR gave an average reverse osmosis fouling rate over the entire study (0.27 Lmh/bar·month) that was less than half of the value found for the reverse osmosis with TMF pretreatment (0.60 Lmh/bar·month). A correlation of reverse osmosis feed TOC concentration with average reverse osmosis fouling rate also was established, independent of the pretreatment method used. Results from a cleaning analysis, energy dispersive spectroscopy, and fourier transformed infrared reflectometry confirmed that the foulants were primarily organic in nature. It is concluded that, for this type of application and setup, MBR systems present an advantage over tertiary membrane polishing of secondary effluent for reverse osmosis pretreatment.

Keywords: membrane bioreactor; membranes; organic fouling; reverse osmosis fouling; reverse osmosis pretreatment; water reclamation

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2011

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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