Membrane ageing in water treatment plants

The research article 'Membrane ageing in full-scale water treatment plants' will be published in Elsevier journal Water Research.


Membrane filtration is a rapidly expanding choice for drinking water treatment. Unfortunately, there is limited data on long-term changes in the membranes’ performance as they age. The present research investigated changes in performance factors as well as chemical characteristics for hollow-fibre ultrafiltration membranes that ranged in age from 8 full-scale drinking water treatment plants.

Membranes were harvested by plant operators regularly and analyzed using standardized laboratory tests. Approximately half of the membranes were a new PVDF-based chemistry. These were observed to have insignificant changes in performance factors and chemical characteristics since their beginning of operation. However, because these membranes were newer, only data for the first 5 years of operation was available.

The other half of the membranes, with an older PVDF-based chemistry, were observed to have stable behaviour until approximately 5 years of operation; after this time, performance factors and chemical characteristics of the membranes began to change significantly. For these membranes, the clean water resistance and fouling rate increased after 5 years of operation. The mechanical properties of these membranes also deteriorated after 5 years of operation, suggesting that their susceptibility to breach is higher after prolonged use. These changes in performance factors paralleled, and were possibly caused by, the removal of hydrophilic additives from the membrane material.

Clean water resistance was identified as a good benchmark for all the parameters studied, a finding that is useful for water treatment facilities in quickly assessing the status of their membranes. Finally, although cumulative exposure dose (C*t) was not used as a metric of membrane age, we observed that when higher doses of hypochlorite were applied, all metrics changed faster than expected based only on years of operation. Therefore, limiting the magnitude of the cumulative hypochlorite dose is essential in managing membrane deterioration.

This research illuminates the knowledge gap between bench-scale ageing studies and operational water treatment plants.

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