Carbon dioxide nucleation as a novel cleaning method for ultrafiltration membranes
AuthorsAl Ghamdi, Mohanned
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AbstractThe use of low-pressure membranes, mainly ultrafiltration (UF), has emerged in the last decade and began to show acceptance as a novel pretreatment process for seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination. This is mainly due to the superior water quality provided by these membranes, in addition to reduction in chemicals consumption compared to conventional methods. However, membrane fouling remains the main drawback of this technology. Therefore, frequent cleaning of these membranes is required to maintain water flux and its quality. Usually, after a series of backwash using UF permeate chemical cleaning is required under some conditions to fully recover the operating flux. Frequent chemical cleaning will probably decrease the life time of the membrane, increase costs, and will have some effects on the environment. The new cleaning method proposed in this study consists of using a solution saturated with carbon dioxide (CO2) to clean UF membranes. Under the drop in pressure, this solution will become in a supersaturated state and bubbles will start to nucleate on the surface of the membrane and its pores from this solution resulting in the removal of the fouling material deposited on the membrane. Different compositions of fouling solutions including the use of organic compounds such as sodium alginate and colloidal 5 silica with different concentrations were studied using synthetic seawater with different concentrations. This cleaning method was then compared to the backwash using Milli-Q water and showed an improved performance compared to it. An operational modification to this cleaning technique was then investigated which includs a series of sudden pressure drop during the backwash process. This enhanced technique showed an even better performance in cleaning the membrane, especially at severe fouling conditions. In most cases, the membrane permeability was fully recovered even at harsh conditions where conventional backwash failed to maintain a stable operation. Therefore, the new cleaning method might provide an efficient and environmentally friendly alternative cleaning technique to low-pressure membranes technology in the future.