Home\Educate\Water Reuse 101\Research Projects\Year\2013\State of the Science Review of Membrane Fouling: Organic, Inorganic, and Biological

State of the Science Review of Membrane Fouling: Organic, Inorganic, and Biological

Project: 06-10 (Phase A)
Year Released: 2013
Type: White Paper

Program: Principal
Funding Partners: Bureau of Reclamation, California Department of Water Resources
Total Investment: $210,000 (Cash: $150,000, In-Kind cash and service: $60,000)

Principal Investigator: Pierre Kwan, HDR Engineering


The use of membrane filtration, especially high-pressure, polymer-based reverse osmosis, has grown steadily since the first major installations began operation in the 1960s. Fouling development is one of the principal issues that inhibit the use of membrane systems.

Goals and Objectives

The project summarizes the state of research activity in the field of fouling understanding and control. The project focuses on the most common areas of biological, organic, and inorganic causes and offers new ideas that can lead to technologies that ultimately may be used in full-scale installations.

Research Approach

This project was organized into three tasks. The first task involved two activities: conducting a literature review on membrane fouling and surveying industry users and researchers about their current research activities. This work led to the development (“visualization”) of initial categories for research projects.

The second task was to convene a workshop consisting of project participants and selected experts in the membrane fouling field to review the identified information from Task One and to refine and/or develop the visualized future membrane fouling research activities. The third task was to evaluate the gathered data and prepare this final report.

Findings and Conclusions

The research team and workshop panel of industry experts identified three specific concept categories that needed further research:

Fundamental Membrane Research and Development: This category involves pursuing an increased understanding of the microscopic interactions between membranes and foulants as they relate to permeate production. This research consists of several bench-scale experiments quantifying the behavior and impacts of foulants on the surfaces of existing and new membranes.

Membrane Pretreatment and Cleaning: This category involves identifying the optimum methods to reduce and/or prevent the accumulation of foulants onto the membranes and the best way to remove accumulated foulants.

Process Design and System Operation: This category investigates the combination of various full-scale elements of membrane systems. The identified topics focus on the study of spiral-wound, high-pressure membranes or ceramic membrane-based systems.

Each category was further developed so that a total of 27 specific research project topics were created. Each topic has an objective, tasks that could be followed, the project rationale, and what overall benefit would be gained by completing the research.

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