Review: Molecular spectroscopic characterization of membrane fouling

The research article 'Molecular Spectroscopic Characterization of Membrane Fouling: A Critical Review' has been published in Elsevier Open Access journal Chem.

The Bigger Picture

Scarcity of clean water and energy shortage are among the most critical challenges of our time. Membrane technology provides a platform for the acquisition of water and energy from unconventional sources, but its application has been limited by membrane fouling. Understanding the mechanism of membrane fouling is crucial for the development of fouling control and prevention strategies and optimization of cleaning approaches. Molecular spectroscopic techniques are promising tools for unearthing the mystery of complex and heterogeneous membrane-fouling evolution, developing efficient cleaning procedures, and designing favorable membrane materials and systems.

This review introduces the latest molecular spectroscopic approaches on membrane-fouling characterization with a focus on state-of-the-art spectroscopic imaging techniques. Future direction for membrane-fouling characterization should focus on non-invasive and online monitoring in a label-free manner with enhanced spectral and spatial resolution.


Membrane technologies have attracted growing interest in the fields of water purification and energy recovery. Membrane fouling is the bottleneck that limits the wide application of membrane-based technologies. Exploration of the fouling mechanism and the chemical composition, structure, and functions of foulants and their changes in the membrane filtration process is therefore of significant importance. Molecular spectroscopic methods are among the most efficient platform tools for characterizing membrane fouling because of their unique advantages, such as chemical identification at the molecular level, high sensitivity, and spatially temporally resolved feasibility. Here, an overview of spectroscopic and microspectroscopic approaches, including UV-vis, fluorescence, infrared, and Raman spectroscopy, for the online detection, identification, visualization, and chemical characterization of membrane fouling is provided, and their main advantages as well as limitations in membrane-fouling research are analyzed. Furthermore, future possibilities and challenges for the development of molecular spectroscopy for membrane-fouling characterization are envisaged in this critical review.

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