Silica fouling in reverse osmosis systems–operando small-angle neutron scattering studies

Vitaliy Pipich, Thomas Starc, Johan Buitenhuis, Roni Kasher, Winfried Petry, Yoram Oren, Dietmar Schwahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We present operando small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) experiments on silica fouling at two reverse osmose (RO) membranes under almost realistic conditions of practiced RO desalination technique. To its realization, two cells were designed for pressure fields and tangential feed cross-flows up to 50 bar and 36 L/h, one cell equipped with the membrane and the other one as an empty cell to measure the feed solution in parallel far from the membrane. We studied several aqueous silica dispersions combining the parameters of colloidal radius, volume fraction, and ionic strength. A relevant result is the observation of Bragg diffraction as part of the SANS scattering pattern, representing a crystalline cake layer of simple cubic lattice structure. Other relevant parameters are silica colloidal size and volume fraction far from and above the membrane, as well as the lattice parameter of the silica cake layer, its volume fraction, thickness, and porosity in comparison with the corresponding permeate flux. The experiments show that the formation of cake layer de-pends to a large extent on colloidal size, ionic strength and cross-flow. Cake layer formation proved to be a reversible process, which could be dissolved at larger cross-flow. Only in one case we observed an irreversible cake layer formation showing the characteristics of an unstable phase transi-tion. We likewise observed enhanced silica concentration and/or cake formation above the mem-brane, giving indication of a first order liquid–solid phase transformation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number413
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Cake formation and dissolution
  • Operando small-angle neutron scattering
  • Reverse osmosis membranes
  • Silica fouling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Filtration and Separation


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