Optimisation of a forward osmosis and membrane distillation hybrid system for the treatment of source-separated urine

F. Volpin, L. Chekli, S. Phuntsho, N. Ghaffour, J. S. Vrouwenvelder, Ho Kyong Shon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The high concentration of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in human urine makes it a suitable raw material for fertiliser production. However, urine is often diluted with a significant amount of flushing water which increases the costs for the downstream nutrients recovery process. Re-using the water and the nutrients in the urine is paramount for enhancing the sustainability of our waste management system. In this work, a combination of forward osmosis (FO) and membrane distillation (MD) was used to extract distilled water from human urine. FO was chosen as MD pre-treatment to increase the overall nitrogen rejection and to prevent wetting of the MD membrane. The goal of this investigation was to tune the FO and MD operating parameters to reduce the nitrogen transport to the MD permeate. Urine pH, draw solution (DS) salt concentration and operating pressure were varied as a means to enhance the FO performances. On the other hand, feed temperature, nitrogen concentration and membrane characteristics were investigated to optimise the MD process. With 2.5 M NaCl as DS commercial FO membranes achieved a water flux between 31.5 and 28.7 L m−2 h−1 and a minimum nitrogen flux of 1.4 g L−1. An additional 33% reduction in the nitrogen transport was observed by applying minimal hydraulic pressure on the DS. However, this was also found to significantly reduce the net transmembrane water flux. Acidification of the feed was also beneficial for both FO and MD nitrogen rejection. Finally, we demonstrated that, by tuning the MD membrane porosity and thickness, higher MD permeate quality could be achieved. To conclude, the hybrid FO-MD process is expected to be an effective solution for the production of clean water and concentrated fertiliser from human urine. This double barrier separation process could be suitable for both water reclamation in space application and resource recovery in urban application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-375
Number of pages8
JournalSeparation and Purification Technology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • Fertiliser
  • Forward osmosis
  • Human urine
  • Membrane distillation
  • Nitrogen rejection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation


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