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Schematics of a reverse osmosis system (desalination) using a pressure exchanger. 1:Sea water inflow, 2: Fresh water flow (40%), 3:Concentrate Flow (60%), 4:Sea water flow (60%), 5: Concentrate (drain), A: High pressure pump flow (40%), B: Circulation pump, C:Osmosis unit with membrane, D: Pressure exchanger

Reverse osmosis is a liquid filtration method which removes many types of large atomic molecules from smaller molecules, by forcing the liquid at high pressure through a membrane with pores (holes) just big enough to allow the small molecules to pass through.

It is most commonly known for its use in drinking water purification from seawater, removing the salt and other substances from the water molecules. However, the process is also used for filtering many other types of liquids.

The process is similar to membrane filtration. However there are key differences between reverse osmosis and filtration. The predominant removal mechanism in membrane filtration is straining, or size exclusion, so the process can theoretically achieve perfect exclusion of particles regardless of operational parameters such as influent pressure and concentration. RO (Reverse Osmosis), however involves a diffusive mechanism so that separation efficiency is dependent on influent solute concentration, pressure and water flux rate.[1] It works by using pressure to force a solution through a membrane, retaining the solute on one side and allowing the pure solvent to pass to the other side. This is the reverse of the normal osmosis process, which is the natural movement of solvent from an area of low solute concentration, through a membrane, to an area of high solute concentration when no external pressure is applied.

Contents

History

The process of osmosis through semipermeable membranes was first observed in 1748 by Jean Antoine Nollet. For the following 200 years, osmosis was only a phenomenon observed in the laboratory. In 1949 the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) first investigated desalination of seawater using semipermeable membranes. Researchers from both UCLA and the University of Florida successfully produced freshwater from seawater in the mid-1950s, but the flux was too low to be commercially viable[2]. By the end of 2001, about 15,200 desalination plants were in operation or in the planning stages worldwide.[1]

Process

Formally, reverse osmosis is the process of forcing a solvent from a region of high solute concentration through a semi permeable membrane to a region of low solute concentration by applying a pressure in excess of the osmotic pressure.

The membranes used for reverse osmosis have a dense barrier layer in the polymer matrix where most separation occurs. In most cases the membrane is designed to allow only water to pass through this dense layer while preventing the passage of solutes (such as salt ions). This process requires that a high pressure be exerted on the high concentration side of the membrane, usually 2–17 bar (30–250 psi) for fresh and brackish water, and 40–70 bar (600–1000 psi) for seawater, which has around 24 bar (350 psi) natural osmotic pressure that must be overcome. This process is best known for its use in desalination (removing the salt from sea water to get fresh water), but since the early 1970s it has also been used to purify fresh water for medical, industrial, and domestic applications.

Osmosis describes how solvent moves between two solutions separated by a semi permeable membrane to reduce concentration differences between the solutions. When two solutions with different concentrations of a solute are mixed, the total amount of solutes in the two solutions will be equally distributed in the total amount of solvent from the two solutions. Instead of mixing the two solutions together, they can be put in two compartments where they are separated from each other by a semi permeable membrane. The semi permeable membrane does not allow the solutes to move from one compartment to the other, but allows the solvent to move. Since equilibrium cannot be achieved by the movement of solutes from the compartment with high solute concentration to the one with low solute concentration, it is instead achieved by the movement of the solvent from areas of low solute concentration to areas of high solute concentration. When the solvent moves away from low concentration areas, it causes these areas to become more concentrated. On the other side, when the solvent moves into areas of high concentration, solute concentration will decrease. This process is termed osmosis. The tendency for solvent to flow through the membrane can be expressed as "osmotic pressure", since it is analogous to flow caused by a pressure differential. Osmosis is an example of diffusion.

In reverse osmosis, in a similar setup as that in osmosis, pressure is applied to the compartment with high concentration. In this case, there are two forces influencing the movement of water: the pressure caused by the difference in solute concentration between the two compartments (the osmotic pressure) and the externally applied pressure.

Applications

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Drinking water purification

Around the world, household drinking water purification systems, including a reverse osmosis step, are commonly used for improving water for drinking and cooking.

Such systems typically include a number of steps:

  • a sediment filter to trap particles including rust and calcium carbonate
  • optionally a second sediment filter with smaller pores
  • an activated carbon filter to trap organic chemicals and chlorine, which will attack and degrade TFC reverse osmosis membranes
  • a reverse osmosis (RO) filter which is a thin film composite membrane (TFM or TFC)
  • optionally a second carbon filter to capture those chemicals not removed by the RO membrane
  • optionally an ultra-violet lamp for disinfecting any microbes that may escape filtering by the reverse osmosis membrane

In some systems, the carbon pre-filter is omitted and cellulose triacetate membrane (CTA) is used. The CTA membrane is prone to rotting unless protected by chlorinated water, while the TFC membrane is prone to breaking down under the influence of chlorine. In CTA systems, a carbon post-filter is needed to remove chlorine from the final product water.

Portable reverse osmosis (RO) water processors are sold for personal water purification in various locations. To work effectively, the water feeding to these units should best be under some pressure (40 psi or greater is the norm). Portable RO water processors can be used by people who live in rural areas without clean water, far away from the city's water pipes. Rural people filter river or ocean water themselves, as the device is easy to use (Saline water may need special membranes). Some travelers on long boating trips, fishing, island camping, or in countries where the local water supply is polluted or substandard, use RO water processors coupled with one or more UV sterilizers. RO systems are also now extensively used by marine aquarium enthusiasts. In the production of bottled mineral water, the water passes through an RO water processor to remove pollutants and microorganisms. In European countries, though, such processing of Natural Mineral Water (as defined by a European Directive) is not allowed under European law. (In practice, a fraction of the living bacteria can and do pass through RO membranes through minor imperfections, or bypass the membrane entirely through tiny leaks in surrounding seals. Thus, complete RO systems may include additional water treatment stages that use ultraviolet light or ozone to prevent microbiological contamination.)

Membrane pore sizes can vary from .1 to 5,000 nanometers (nm) depending on filter type. "Particle filtration" removes particles of 1,000 nm or larger. Microfiltration removes particles of 50 nm or larger. "Ultrafiltration" removes particles of roughly 3 nm or larger. "Nanofiltration" removes particles of 1 nm or larger. Reverse osmosis is in the final category of membrane filtration, "Hyperfiltration", and removes particles larger than .1 nm.

In the United States military, R.O.W.P.U.'s (Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit, pronounced "roh-poo") are used on the battlefield and in training. They come ranging from 1500 GPD (gallons per day) to 150,000 GPD and bigger depending on the need. The most common of these are the 600 GPH (gallons per hour) and the 3,000 GPH. Both are able to purify salt water and water contaminated with N.B.C. (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) agents from the water. During a normal 24 hour period, one unit can produce anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 gallons of water, with a required 4 hour maintenance window to check systems, pumps, R.O. elements and the engine generator. A single ROWPU can sustain a force of a battalion size element or roughly 1,000 to 6,000 soldiers.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Service Support Group 31

Water and wastewater purification

Rain water collected from storm drains is purified with reverse osmosis water processors and used for landscape irrigation and industrial cooling in Los Angeles and other cities, as a solution to the problem of water shortages.

In industry, reverse osmosis removes minerals from boiler water at power plants. The water is boiled and condensed repeatedly. It must be as pure as possible so that it does not leave deposits on the machinery or cause corrosion. The deposits inside or outside the boiler tubes may result in under-performance of the boiler, bringing down its efficiency and resulting in poor steam production, hence poor power production at turbine.

It is also used to clean effluent and brackish groundwater. The effluent, is in larger volumes (more than 500 cu. meter per day) should be treated in effluent treatment plant first and then the clear effluent is subjected to reverse osmosis system. it helps in bringing down the treatment cost significantly and increase the membrane life of the RO system.

The process of reverse osmosis can be used for the production of deionized water.

In 2002, Singapore announced that a process named NEWater would be a significant part of its future water plans. It involves using reverse osmosis to treat domestic wastewater before discharging the NEWater back into the reservoirs.

Dialysis

Reverse osmosis is similar to the technique used in dialysis, which is used by people with kidney failure. The kidneys filter the blood, removing waste products (e.g. urea) and water, which is then excreted as urine. A dialysis machine mimics the function of the kidneys. The blood passes from the body via a catheter to the dialysis machine, across a filter.

Food Industry

In addition to desalination, reverse osmosis is a more economical operation for concentrating food liquids (such as fruit juices) than conventional heat-treatment processes. Research has been done on concentration of orange juice and tomato juice. Its advantages include a low operating cost and the ability to avoid heat treatment processes, which makes it suitable for heat-sensitive substances like the protein and enzymes found in most food products.

Reverse osmosis is extensively used in the dairy industry for the production of whey protein powders and for the concentration of milk to reduce shipping costs. In whey applications, the whey (liquid remaining after cheese manufacture) is pre-concentrated with RO from 6% total solids to 10-20% total solids before UF (ultrafiltration) processing. The UF retentate can then be used to make various whey powders including WPI (whey protein isolate) used in bodybuilding formulations. Additionally, the UF permeate, which contains lactose, is concentrated by RO from 5% total solids to 18–22% total solids to reduce crystallization and drying costs of the lactose powder.

Although use of the process was once frowned upon in the wine industry, it is now widely understood and used. An estimated 60 reverse osmosis machines were in use in Bordeaux, France in 2002. Known users include many of the elite classed growths (Kramer) such as Château Léoville-Las Cases in Bordeaux.

Car Washing

Because of its lower mineral content, Reverse Osmosis water is often used in car washes during the final vehicle rinse to prevent water spotting on the vehicle. Reverse osmosis water displaces the mineral-heavy reclamation water (municipal water). Reverse Osmosis water also enables the car wash operators to reduce the demands on the vehicle drying equipment such as air blowers.

Maple Syrup Production

In 1946, some maple syrup producers started using reverse osmosis to remove water from sap before being further boiled down to syrup. The use of reverse osmosis allows approximately 54-42% of the water to be removed from the sap, reducing energy consumption and exposure of the syrup to high temperatures. Microbial contamination and degradation of the membranes has to be monitored.

Hydrogen production

For small scale production of hydrogen, reverse osmosis is sometimes used to prevent formation of minerals on the surface of electrodes and to remove organics from drinking water.

Reef aquariums

Typical RO/DI unit used for an aquarium

Many reef aquarium keepers use reverse osmosis systems for their artificial mixture of seawater. Ordinary tap water can often contain excessive chlorine, chloramines, copper, nitrogen, phosphates, silicates, or many other chemicals detrimental to the sensitive organisms in a reef environment. Contaminants such as nitrogen compounds and phosphates can lead to excessive, and unwanted, algae growth. An effective combination of both reverse osmosis and deionization (RO/DI) is the most popular among reef aquarium keepers and is preferred above other water purification processes due to the low cost of ownership and minimal running costs. (Where chlorine and chloramines are found in the water, carbon filtration is needed before the membrane, as the common residential membrane used by reef keepers does not cope with these compounds.)

Desalination

Areas that have either no or limited surface water or groundwater may choose to desalinate seawater or brackish water to obtain drinking water. Reverse osmosis is the most common method of desalination, although 85 percent of desalinated water is produced in multistage flash plants.[3]

Large reverse osmosis and multistage flash desalination plants are used in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia. The energy requirements of the plants are large, but electricity can be produced relatively cheaply with the abundant oil reserves in the region. The desalination plants are often located adjacent to the power plants, which reduces energy losses in transmission and allows waste heat to be used in the desalination process of multistage flash plants, reducing the amount of energy needed to desalinate the water and providing cooling for the power plant.

Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) is a reverse osmosis desalination membrane process that has been commercially used since the early 1970s. Its first practical use was demonstrated by Sidney Loeb and Srinivasa Sourirajan from UCLA in Coalinga, California. Because no heating or phase changes are needed, energy requirements are low in comparison to other processes of desalination, but are still much higher than those required for other forms of water supply (including reverse osmosis treatment of wastewater).[citation needed]

The Ashkelon seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant in Israel is the largest in the world.[4][5] The project was developed as a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) by a consortium of three international companies: Veolia water, IDE Technologies and Elran.[6]

The typical single pass SWRO system consists of the following components:

  • Intake
  • Pre-treatment
  • High-pressure pump
  • Membrane assembly
  • Remineralization and pH adjustment
  • Disinfection
  • Alarm/Control Panel

Pre-treatment

Pre-treatment is important when working with RO and nanofiltration (NF) membranes due to the nature of their spiral wound design. The material is engineered in such a fashion to allow only one way flow through the system. As such the spiral wound design doesn't allow for backpulsing with water or air agitation to scour its surface and remove solids. Since accumulated material cannot be removed from the membrane surface systems they are highly susceptible to fouling (loss of production capacity). Therefore, pretreatment is a necessity for any RO or NF system. Pretreatment in SWRO system has four major components:

  • Screening of solids: Solids within the water must be removed and the water treated to prevent fouling of the membranes by fine particle or biological growth, and reduce the risk of damage to high-pressure pump components.
  • Cartridge filtration - Generally string-wound polypropylene filters that remove between 1 - 5 micrometre sized particles.
  • Dosing of oxidizing biocides such as chlorine to kill bacteria followed by bisulfite dosing to deactivate the chlorine which can destroy a thin-film composite membrane. There are also biofouling inhibitors which do not kill bacteria but simply prevent them from growing slime on the membrane surface.
  • Prefiltration pH adjustment: If the pH, hardness and the alkalinity in the feedwater result in a scaling tendency when they are concentrated in the reject stream, acid is dosed to maintain carbonates in their soluble carbonic acid form.
CO3-2 + H3O+ = HCO3- + H2O
HCO3- + H3O+ = H2CO3 + H2O
  • Carbonic acid cannot combine with calcium to form calcium carbonate scale. Calcium Carbonate Scaling tendency is estimated using the Langelier Saturation Index. Adding too much sulfuric acid to control carbonate scales may result in calcium sulfate, barium sulfate or strontium sulfate scale formation on the RO membrane.
  • Prefiltration Antiscalants: Scale inhibitors (also known as antiscalants) prevent formation of all scales compared to acid which can only prevent formation of calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate scales. In addition to inhibiting carbonate and phosphate scales, antiscalants inhibit sulfate and fluoride scales, disperse colloids and metal oxides and specialty products exist to inhibit silica formation.

High pressure pump

The pump supplies the pressure needed to push water through the membrane, even as the membrane rejects the passage of salt through it. Typical pressures for brackish water range from 225 to 375 psi (15.5 to 26 bar, or 1.6 to 2.6 MPa). In the case of seawater, they range from 800 to 1,180 psi (55 to 81.5 bar or 6 to 8 MPa).

Membrane assembly

The layers of a membrane.

The membrane assembly consists of a pressure vessel with a membrane that allows feedwater to be pressed against it. The membrane must be strong enough to withstand whatever pressure is applied against it. RO membranes are made in a variety of configurations, with the two most common configurations being spiral-wound and a hollow-fiber.

Remineralisation and pH adjustment

The desalinated water is very corrosive and is "stabilized" to protect downstream pipelines and storages usually by adding lime or caustic to prevent corrosion of concrete or cement lined surfaces. Liming material is used in order to adjust pH at 6.8 to 8.1 to meet the potable water specifications, primarily for effective disinfection and for corrosion control.

Disinfection

Post-treatment consists of stabilizing the water and preparing for distribution. Desalination processes are very effective barriers to pathogenic organisms, however disinfection is used to ensure a "safe" water supply. Disinfection (sometimes called germicidal or bactericidal) is employed to sterilise any bacteria protozoa and virus that have bypassed the desalination process into the product water. Disinfection may be by means of ultraviolet radiation, using UV lamps directly on the product, or by chlorination or chloramination (chlorine and ammonia). In many countries either chlorination or chloramination is used to provide a "residual" disinfection agent in the water supply system to protect against infection of the water supply by contamination entering the system.

Disadvantages

Household reverse osmosis units use a lot of water because they have low back pressure. As a result, they recover only 5 to 15 percent of the water entering the system. The remainder is discharged as waste water. Because waste water carries with it the rejected contaminants, methods to recover this water are not practical for household systems. Waste water is typically connected to the house drains and will add to the load on the household septic system. An RO unit delivering 5 gallons of treated water per day may discharge 40 to 90 gallons of waste water per day to the septic system.[7]

Large scale industrial/municipal systems have a production efficiency of closer to 48% because they can generate the high pressure needed for RO filtration.

New developments

Prefiltration of high fouling waters with another, larger-pore membrane with less hydraulic energy requirement, has been evaluated and sometimes used since the 1970s. However, this means the water passes through two membranes and is often repressurized, requiring more energy input in the system, increasing the cost.

Other recent development work has focused on integrating RO with electrodialysis in order to improve recovery of valuable deionized products or minimize concentrate volume requiring discharge or disposal.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b [Crittenden, John; Trussell, Rhodes; Hand, David; Howe, Kerry and Tchobanoglous, George. Water Treatment Principles and Design, Edition 2. John Wiley and Sons. New Jersey. 2005.]
  2. ^ Glater, J. (1998). "The early history of reverse osmosis membrane development". Desalination 117: 297-309. 
  3. ^ Water Technology - Shuaiba Desalination Plant
  4. ^ Israel is No. 5 on Top 10 Cleantech List in Israel 21c A Focus Beyond Retrieved 2009-12-21
  5. ^ Desalination Plant Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) Plant
  6. ^ Ashkelon desalination plant — A successful challenge
  7. ^ Treatment Systems for Household Water Supplies

References

  • Kramer, Matt. Making Sense of Wine. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003.

External links


Simple English

Reverse osmosis is a separation process that uses pressure to force a solution through a membrane that keeps the solute on one side and lets the pure solvent to go to the other side.

Uses

This process is best known for its use in desalination (removing the salt from sea water to get fresh water), but it has also been used to purify fresh water for medical, industrial and domestic applications since the early 1970s.


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