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Membrane autopsy provides clues to efficient desalination

A membrane autopsy can be used to determine what is fouling the membrane and thus prescribe the best methods for cleaning as well as other ways to improve its efficiency.

Desalination plants rely on good performance of reverse osmosis membranes, but over time these become fouled with marine organisms and biofilms.

A membrane autopsy can be used to determine what is fouling the membrane and thus prescribe the best methods for cleaning as well as other ways to improve its efficiency.

Johannes Vrouwenvelder and his team are part­nering with water and energy company, ACWA Power, to perform autopsies on membranes that have been used to desalinate local urban water. The team will use information from these autopsies to propose improvements to the mem­branes.

We outline the process they use.

Water for desalination is pumped through membranes that are housed in pressure vessels.
1. Water for desalination is pumped through membranes that are housed in pressure vessels.

 The membrane is removed from the pressure vessel and the outer shell cut away.
2. The membrane is removed from the pressure vessel and the outer shell cut away.

The layers of the membrane are rolled out so the researchers can examine the surface.
3. The layers of the membrane are rolled out so the researchers can examine the surface.

Scraping off the membrane reveals its original white color.
4. Scraping off the membrane reveals its original white color.

Sections are cut for chemical and biological sampling
5. Sections are cut for chemical and biological sampling.