Modification of the feed spacer design significantly influences the energy consumption of membrane filtration processes. This study developed a novel column type feed spacer with the aim to reduce the specific energy consumption (SEC) of the membrane based water filtration system. The proposed spacer increases the clearance between the filament and the membrane (reducing the spacer filament diameter) while keeping the same flow channel thickness as compared to a standard non-woven symmetric spacer. Since the higher clearance reduces the flow unsteadiness, column type nodes were added in the spacer structure as additional vortex shading bodies. Fluid flow behaviour in the channel for this spacer was numerically simulated by 3D CFD studies and then compared with the standard spacer. The numerical results showed that the proposed spacer substantially reduced the pressure drop, shear stress at the constriction region and shortened the dead zone. Finally, these findings were confirmed experimentally by investigating the filtration performances using the 3D printed prototypes of these spacers in a lab-scale filtration module. It is observed that the column spacer reduced the pressure drop by three times and doubled the specific water flux. 2D OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) scans of the membrane surface acquired after the filtration revealed much lower biomass accumulation using the proposed spacer. Consequently, the SEC for the column spacer was found about two folds lower than the standard spacer.
The improvement of feed spacers with optimal geometry remains a key challenge for spiral-wound membrane systems in water treatment due to their impact on the hydrodynamic performance and fouling development. In this work, novel spacer designs are proposed by intrinsically modifying cylindrical filaments through perforations. Three symmetric perforated spacers (1-Hole, 2-Hole, and 3-Hole) were in-house 3D-printed and experimentally evaluated in terms of permeate flux, feed channel pressure drop and membrane fouling. Spacer performance is characterized and compared with standard no perforated (0-Hole) design under constant feed pressure and constant feed flow rate. Perforations in the spacer filaments resulted in significantly lowering the net pressure drop across the spacer filled channel. The 3-Hole spacer was found to have the lowest pressure drop (50% - 61%) compared to 0-Hole spacer for various average flow velocities. Regarding permeate flux production, the 0-Hole spacer produced 5.7 L.m-2.h-1 and 6.6 L.m-2.h-1 steady state flux for constant pressure and constant feed flow rate, respectively. The 1-Hole spacer was found to be the most efficient among the perforated spacers with 75% and 23% increase in permeate production at constant pressure and constant feed flow, respectively. Furthermore, membrane surface of 1-Hole spacer was found to be cleanest in terms of fouling, contributing to maintain higher permeate flux production. Hydrodynamic understanding of these perforated spacers is also quantified by performing Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS). The performance enhancement of these perforated spacers is attributed to the formation of micro-jets in the spacer cell that aided in producing enough unsteadiness/turbulence to clean the membrane surface and mitigate fouling phenomena. In the case of 1-Hole spacer, the unsteadiness intensity at the outlet of micro-jets and the shear stress fluctuations created inside the cells are higher than those observed with other perforated spacers, resulting in the cleanest membrane surface.
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