Jun 132010
 
Schematics of a reverse osmosis system (desali...
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Researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have unveiled a new class of reverse-osmosis membranes for desalination that resist the clogging which typically occurs when seawater, brackish water and waste water are purified.

The highly permeable, surface-structured membrane can easily be incorporated into today’s commercial production system, the researchers say, and could help to significantly reduce desalination operating costs. Their findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Materials Chemistry.

Reverse-osmosis (RO) desalination uses high pressure to force polluted water through the pores of a membrane. While water molecules pass through the pores, mineral salt ions, bacteria and other impurities cannot. Over time, these particles build up on the membrane’s surface, leading to clogging and membrane damage. This scaling and fouling places higher energy demands on the pumping system and necessitates costly cleanup and membrane replacement.

The new UCLA membrane’s novel surface topography and chemistry allow it to avoid such drawbacks.

“Besides possessing high water permeability, the new membrane also shows high rejection characteristics and long-term stability,” said Nancy H. Lin, a UCLA Engineering senior researcher and the study’s lead author. “Structuring the membrane surface does not require a long reaction time, high reaction temperature or the use of a vacuum chamber. The anti-scaling property, which can increase membrane life and decrease operational costs, is superior to existing commercial membranes.”

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