Real time visual characterization of membrane fouling and cleaning


Ngene, Ikenna Sunday (2010) Real time visual characterization of membrane fouling and cleaning. thesis.

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Abstract:The research presented in this thesis is focused on the phenomena of
membrane fouling. Membrane fouling is simply described as the deposition
of unwanted matter on the membrane surface during the course of operation,
which results in reduction in filtration efficiency. This research is aimed at
visually characterizing membrane fouling as well as fouling removal.
Typical fouling characterization techniques are either invasive or non-visual.
In a bid to better characterize membrane fouling, a novel technique was
developed whereby fouling can be observed visually and in real time. Chapter
2 describes the method, with the fabrication of embedded channel
membranes using phase separation micromolding (PSμM). Using a model
feed solution containing 6 μm polystyrene particles, deposition on the
membrane surface was studied. It was observed that initially, there is the
build-up of cake towards the channel exit and with increasing local resistance,
there is a change in hydrodynamics leading to build-up closer to the channel
To better describe “normal” feed solutions, chapter 3 describes study on
fouling using a feed solution containing bidisperse suspension (3.3 and 5.7
μm) of polystyrene particles. Increasing the fraction of larger particles in the
suspension resulted in an initial reduction in cake porosity leading to a
minimum at number fraction of 0.5. On the other hand, the specific cake
resistance showed a continuing decline with addition of larger particles.
These results compared favourably with theoretical calculations of cake
porosity (using Tokumitsu’s method) and specific cake resistance (using
Kozeny Carman relation). However, the experimental results gave lower
absolute values which could be due to better ordering of the cake closer to
the membrane.
There have been reports of feed spacers contributing to (bio)fouling. This is
interesting considering that spacers are used in spiral wound modules as
“surface shear generators”. In chapter four, we study the flow and (bio)fouling
around micro structured membranes designed to mimic spacer nodes. It was observed that the biofilm formation and growth occurred upstream of these
structures contrary to reports in literature. Particulate fouling of the
structures suggested that biofilm initiation is similar to particulate deposition
whereby biomass on contacting the structure, adheres and grows leading to a
Air sparging is a technique which has been applied in industries for the
removal of (bio)fouling from the spiral wound module. In chapter five, a novel
sparging technique was compared to typical sparging and forward flush in
terms of removal of biofouling from membrane/spacer channels. Dissolved
CO2 was applied as a cleaning agent with nucleation of the gas within the
channels due to pressure drop as well as imperfections on the spacer surface
acting as nucleation sites. It was observed that forward flush resulted in 40 %
restoration of channel resistance while the water/N2 sparging resulted in 80
% restoration. Water/CO2 nucleation resulted in 100 % restoration of the
channel resistance due to better distribution of the bubbles within the
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