The feasibility of reverse osmosis as a water reclamation process with special reference to the rejection of organic compounds

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis deals with water reclamation and water reuse in the South African water supply context. The overall objective of the study is to assess the potential role and feasibility of reverse osmosis as a water reclamation process. In order to achieve this objective a number of separate desk, laboratory and pilot plant studies were conducted. It was concluded from the first desk study that a significant potential role exists for reverse osmosis in the South African water economy, mainly for the treatment of industrial effluents and, in the longer term, for the reclamation of water from sewage effluents and for the treatment of effluents and recycled water in indirect water reuse situations. A cost analysis showed that reverse osmosis could become economically viable in some water reuse situations in the near future provided that a productive membrane life of about three years can be achieved and that membrane fluxes can be maintained at design rates. These findings indicated the need for a pilot plant study to determine the effects of pretreatment and membrane cleaning on flux levels and rejection. A 50 m³/d pilot plant was designed and operated for a period of about six months from which it was concluded that acceptable flux levels can be maintained in tubular reverse osmosis plants treating well-oxidized activated sludge effluent with and without extensive pretreatment, provided both chemical and physical cleaning methods are employed. The desk study on the rejection of contaminants by reverse osmosis membranes indicated the need for a simple model that can be used to predict the removal of organic compounds of interest in water reclamation applications. It was concluded from a fundamental laboratory study, which included the evaluation of existing membrane models against laboratory data, that the solvophobic theory can be adapted in a simplified form to predict the transport of dissolved organic compounds in relatively non-polar reverse osmosis membranes. Based on reverse osmosis, diffusion, sorption and desorption data a mechanism is, furthermore, proposed for the transport of phenol in different membranes.