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A review on RO membrane technology: Developments and challenges



A review on RO membrane technology: Developments and challenges

Reverse osmosis (RO) based desalination is one of the most important and widely recognized technologies for production of fresh water from saline water. Since its conception and initiation, a significant development has been witnessed in this technology w.r.t. materials, synthesis techniques, modification and modules over the last few decades. The working of a RO plant inclusive of the pretreatment and post-treatment procedures has been briefly discussed in the article. The main objective of this review is to highlight the historical milestones achieved in RO technology in terms of membrane performance, the developments seen over the last few years and the challenges perceived.

The material properties of the membrane dominate the performance of a RO process. The emergence of nano-technology and biomimetic RO membranes as the futuristic tools is capable of revolutionizing the entire RO process. Hence the development of nano-structured membranes involving thin film nano-composite membranes, carbon-nanotube membranes and aquaporin-based membranes has been focussed in detail. The problems associated with a RO process such as scaling, brine disposal and boron removal are briefed and the measures adopted to address the same have been discussed.

In response to the escalating world water demand and aiming to promote equal opportunities, reverse osmosis desalination has been widely implemented. Desalination is however constantly subjected to fouling and scaling which increase the cost of desalination by increasing the differential pressure of the membrane and reducing the permeate flux. A bench-scale desalination equipment has been used in this research to investigate the mitigation of fouling and scaling. This study involved the performance of membrane autopsy for fouling characterisation with special attention to flux decline due to sulphate precipitation and biofouling. Visual inspection, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and microbiology tests (API) were performed. Results obtained showed the presence of diatoms, pseudomonas and polysaccharides as the main foulants causing biofouling. Analysis revealed sulphate deposits as well as aluminium, calcium and silica as the main elements contributing to inorganic scaling. Findings pointed out that the pre-treatment system of the small-scale reverse osmosis water treatment was inefficient and that selection of pre-treatment chemicals should be based on its compatibility with the membrane structure. The importance of characterisation for the verification of fouling mechanisms is emphasised.

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