Novel Ceramic Membranes for Membrane Distillation: Surface Modification, Performance Comparison with PTFE Membranes, and Treatment of Municipal Wastewater

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Wiesner, Mark

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Current global water scarcity and the spectre of a future critical shortage are driving the need for novel and energy saving water technology approaches. Desalination of seawater and the reuse of treated wastewater effluent, which have historically been viewed as undesirable water sources, are increasingly being explored as sources for reducing water consumption. Although the dominant technologies for taking these water sources to potable quality, energy consumption still makes them unsustainable for widespread application. Membrane distillation (MD) is an innovative water purification method that has shown promise as a technology that can address several of these issues. MD is a membrane process that produces very high quality product water. However, similarly to other thermal desalting processes, MD utilizes heat as the dominant source of energy rather than pressure, and can potentially be used to produce water at higher recoveries (and therefore less waste) than is feasible with existing approaches. Another important advantage of MD is that the water separation occurs at modest temperatures (<90oC), opening the door for the utilization of currently usable waste heat sources. Despite these advantages, MD is primarily a lab scale technology, and key questions concerning process performance, including flux magnitude, energy efficiency, fouling propensity, membrane performance, and long-term system performance must be addressed to fully vet this technology.

This work is represents an attempt to provide insight into several of these issues. The overarching approach taken throughout this project is the parallel evaluation of ceramic membranes alongside commonly used polymeric (PTFE) membranes. The combined factors of MD being a relatively nascent technology and the fundamental separation mechanism point toward initial real-world applications of MD for the treatment of high concentration water that may necessitate membranes exposure to harsher thermal and chemical environments. The robust and inert nature of ceramics make them ideal candidates for such application, although their hydrophilic surface do allow for direct implementation in MD. The first phase of this work details the evaluation of several candidate surface treatments for modifying ceramic membranes and shows that aluminum oxide ceramic membranes can be successfully modified with perfluorodecyltriethoxysilane to possess the necessary hydrophobicity for MD application. The effectiveness of the surface treatment in modifying the membrane surface chemistry was assessed using a multitude of analytical approaches, which showed that the modified ceramic surface attained high hydrophobicity and thus are suitable for application of the membranes in direct contact membrane distillation (DCMD).

The next phase of research details the development and verification of a model for DCMD performance. The relative membrane performance was compared, with the polymeric membrane consistently outperforming the modified ceramics, which was attributed to a combination of superior thermal and physical membrane characteristics. Beyond attempting to evaluate the performance differences, this model allows the consideration of various operational scenarios, focusing on membrane flux and energy performance as various membrane and operational parameters change to determine conditions that maximize MD performance as well as provide insight critical to develop MD-specific membranes.

Finally, membrane performance was evaluated during the treatment water containing various organic foulants as well for the treatment of municipal wastewater. The results showed that the level of fouling was highly dependent on foulant type, with alginate identified as a component that produces severe fouling under all conditions evaluated, and wastewater fouling being relatively minimal. Membrane cleaning solutions were implemented to show that near-complete flux recovery was attainable, and plain deionized water was shown to be as effective as sodium hypochlorite.





Hendren, Zachary Doubrava (2011). Novel Ceramic Membranes for Membrane Distillation: Surface Modification, Performance Comparison with PTFE Membranes, and Treatment of Municipal Wastewater. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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