Flux patterns and membrane fouling propensity during desalination of seawater by forward osmosis

Zhenyu Li, Victor Yangali-Quintanilla, Rodrigo Valladares Linares, Qingyu Li, Tong Zhan, Gary L. Amy

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199 Scopus citations


The membrane fouling propensity of natural seawater during forward osmosis was studied. Seawater from the Red Sea was used as the feed in a forward osmosis process while a 2. M sodium chloride solution was used as the draw solution. The process was conducted in a semi-batch mode under two crossflow velocities, 16.7. cm/s and 4.2. cm/s. For the first time reported, silica scaling was found to be the dominant inorganic fouling (scaling) on the surface of membrane active layer during seawater forward osmosis. Polymerization of dissolved silica was the major mechanism for the formation of silica scaling. After ten batches of seawater forward osmosis, the membrane surface was covered by a fouling layer of assorted polymerized silica clusters and natural organic matter, especially biopolymers. Moreover, the absorbed biopolymers also provided bacterial attachment sites. The accumulated organic fouling could be partially removed by water flushing while the polymerized silica was difficult to remove. The rate of flux decline was about 53% with a crossflow velocity of 16.7. cm/s while reaching more than 70% with a crossflow velocity of 4.2. cm/s. Both concentration polarization and fouling played roles in the decrease of flux. The salt rejection was stable at about 98% during seawater forward osmosis. In addition, an almost complete rejection of natural organic matter was attained. The results from this study are valuable for the design and development of a successful protocol for a pretreatment process before seawater forward osmosis and a cleaning method for fouled membranes. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-204
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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