Colloidal silica fouling mechanism in direct-contact membrane distillation

Yongsun Jang, Jung-Gil Lee, Luca Fortunato, Jieun Lee, Yejin Lee, Alicia Kyoungjin An, NorEddine Ghaffour, Sangho Lee, Sanghyun Jeong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Membrane fouling limits the performance of membrane distillation (MD) and its application to seawater brine treatment. Silica fouling is considered one of the most complex type of fouling. In this study, we evaluated the flux decline and fouling ratio due to colloidal silica fouling in direct-contact MD and characterized the fouled membranes. We also tested the efficacy of high flow-rate water flushing for the restoration of flux after fouling. The formation and removal of silica scaling were monitored in real-time with optical coherence tomography (OCT). Our work demonstrated that fouling formation is influenced by silica particle size, feed temperature, salinity, and flow rate. Notably, silica formed cake-layer fouling on the MD membranes. Smaller silica particle size resulted in a higher flux decline and a denser cake layer. A higher feed temperature resulted in a higher flux, but more severe fouling. We also found that fouling was minimized at an optimal flow rate and salinity did not significantly affect fouling formation. OCT monitoring showed that silica fouling deposited on the membrane surface and evaluated the effect of each cleaning strategies on the cake layer. This comprehensive investigation provides valuable insights for the development of silica fouling control strategies in MD.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115554
StatePublished - Jan 24 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • General Materials Science
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Chemistry
  • Mechanical Engineering


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