Comparative analysis of various pretreatments to mitigate fouling and scaling in membrane distillation

I. Min Hsieh, Amit K. Thakur, Mahdi Malmali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Membrane distillation (MD) has shown strong promise for treating hypersaline produced water (PW) streams. Scaling and fouling on the membrane surface, however, have been identified as major challenges for commercialization and widespread application. The focus of this study was to first identify the nature of foulants and scalants on the membrane surface and then investigate the pretreatment strategies that mitigate the extent of fouling and scaling on the membrane surface. Vacuum MD (VMD) was selected for this study because of its higher flux at more moderate feed temperatures that eventually leads better assessment of fouling and scaling on the membrane surface. VMD flux tests were carried out with three different real PW samples at total dissolved solids concentrations in the range of 120–160 g/L. It was found that an efficient pretreatment prior to MD is required to mitigate the fouling potential of the organic matter, mostly suspended constituents, in PW samples. Suspended organics fouled and quickly wetted the MD membrane. Major conventional treatments, including filtration, oxidation, coagulation, air floatation, and aeration were investigated to pretreat the PW before VMD tests. A comprehensive comparative analysis is presented showing that the ultrafiltration and coagulation pretreatments displayed the best performance in mitigating the fouling and scaling, while oxidative pretreatment was found to be effective in reducing the iron concentration to less than 5 ppm. The surface of scaled membranes was carefully characterized to further evaluate the performance of each pretreatment. The components that had the highest tendency to precipitate on the membrane surface were identified as strontium sulfate, calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, iron oxide, and silica. These findings are supported by thermodynamic estimation of the saturation index.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115046
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Desalination
  • Fouling
  • Membrane distillation
  • Pretreatment
  • Produced water
  • Scaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering


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