Membrane distillation (MD) is an emerging thermal separation technology which proved its efficiency in desalination of highly saline waters, including seawater, brines and impaired process waters. In a long-term prospective, MD can reinforce sustainability of the clean water production and mitigate the water-energy stress caused by lacking suitable freshwater recourses. However, just like in any other membrane separation process, MD membrane is susceptible to biofouling which presents a significant challenge by substantially reducing its performance and deteriorating permeate quality. This study evaluated different cleaning methods aimed at controlling biofilm development on a surface of hydrophobic MD membrane in a direct contact MD (DCMD) process fed by the Red Sea water. This was achieved by applying physical (hydraulic) cleaning and chemical cleanings with a range of chemicals utilized in membrane separation processes including citric acid (mineral acid), ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA, metal-chelating agent) and sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl, oxidant). Flux recovery and changes in biofilm morphology, including its thickness and structure as well as microbial and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) contents before and after cleanings have been analyzed to elucidate cleaning mechanisms and suggest effective strategies of biofilm removal. The results showed that 0.3% EDTA exhibited the best cleaning performance resulting in the highest permeate flux recovery (93%), followed by 0.3% NaOCl (89%), 3% citric acid (76%), and hydraulic (66%) cleanings. Application of EDTA and NaOCl has also resulted in the lowest number of bacterial cells and substantial reduction of the peak intensities caused by protein-like compounds and tyrosine-containing proteins present on the membrane surface after its treamtent. The observed trends are in a good correlation with the optical coherence tomography (OCT) observations which revealed substation changes in biofilm morphology leading to a significant reduction of biofilm thickness which followed the order of hydraulic cleaning < citric acid cleaning < NaOCl cleaning < EDTA cleaning. This study suggests that selection of an appropriate cleaning type and formulation is critical for achieving sustainable MD plant operations, both technically and economically.
|Date made available
|KAUST Research Repository