Membrane cleaning : from theory to practice
Membrane cleaning : from theory to practice
Low-pressure membranes (microfiltration and ultrafiltration) are increasingly replacing conventional water treatment processes as the result of more stringent regulations and greatly improved competitive pricing. It has been recognised that the most common operating issue of membrane plant operation is controlling membrane fouling. Although the impact of fouling may be mitigated via the modification of the pretreatment process, as inefficient cleaning can affect the extent of irreversible permeability loss, leading to the premature replacement of membranes.

Membrane fouling is fundamentally the result of interfacial interactions between membrane and fouling substances, and between different constituents of fouling materials. Those interfacial interactions primarily are electrostatic, hydrogen bonds, steric, van der Waals, and hydrophobic / hydrophilic in nature. The sum of those interactions would determine if attraction or repulsion forces dominate, which may be described by models such as extended Derjaguin–Landau–Verwey–Overbeek (DLVO) theory as feasible theoretical frameworks for characterising the membrane fouling phenomenon. Although research in this aspect has been limited, better understanding of the nature of fouling can help to improve cleaning efficiency and develop new cleaning techniques. Another area of interests relevant to membrane cleaning is the structure of the fouling layer, which is largely related to the time-dependent mass transport and kinetics of fouling layer formation. A stratified fouling layer structure may lead to sequential approach of membrane cleaning.
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