Surface-Induced Silica Scaling during Brackish Water Desalination: The Role of Surface Charge and Specific Chemical Groups

Karthik Rathinam, Shiju Abraham, Yoram Oren, Dietmar Schwahn, Winfried Petry, Yair Kaufman, Roni Kasher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Silica scaling of membranes used in reverse osmosis desalination processes is a severe problem, especially during the desalination of brackish groundwater due to high silica concentrations. This problem limits the water supply in inland arid and semiarid regions. Here, we investigated the influence of surface-exposed organic functional groups on silica precipitation and scaling. A test solution simulating the mineral content of brackish groundwater desalination brine at 75% recovery was used. The mass and chemical composition of the precipitated silica was monitored using a quartz crystal microbalance, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy, showing that surfaces with positively charged groups induced rapid silica precipitation, and the rate of silica precipitation followed the order -NH2 ∼-N+(CH3)3 > -NH2/-COOH > -H2PO3 ∼-OH > -COOH > -CH3. Force vs distance AFM measurements showed that the adhesion energy between a silica colloid glued to AFM cantilever and the studied surfaces increased as the surface charge changed from negative to positive. Thus, for the first time direct measurements of molecular forces and specific chemical groups that govern silica scaling during brackish water desalination is reported here. The influence of the different functional groups and the effect of the surface charge on silica precipitation that were found here can be used to design membranes that resist silica scaling in membrane-based desalination processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5202-5211
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 7 May 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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