Impact of humic acid fouling on membrane performance and transport of pharmaceutically active compounds in forward osmosis

Ming Xie, Long D. Nghiem, William E. Price, Menachem Elimelech

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The impact of humic acid fouling on the membrane transport of two pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) - namely carbamazepine and sulfamethoxazole - in forward osmosis (FO) was investigated. Deposition of humic acid onto the membrane surface was promoted by the complexation with calcium ions in the feed solution and the increase in ionic strength at the membrane surface due to the reverse transport of NaCl draw solute. The increase in the humic acid deposition on the membrane surface led to a substantial decrease in the membrane salt (NaCl) permeability coefficient but did not result in a significant decrease in the membrane pure water permeability coefficient. As the deposition of humic acid increased, the permeation of carbamazepine and sulfamethoxazole decreased, which correlated well with the decrease in the membrane salt (NaCl) permeability coefficient. It is hypothesized that the hydrated humic acid fouling layer hindered solute diffusion through the membrane pore and enhanced solute rejection by steric hindrance, but not the permeation of water molecules. The membrane water and salt (NaCl) permeability coefficients were fully restored by physical cleaning of the membrane, suggesting that humic acid did not penetrate into the membrane pores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4567-4575
Number of pages9
JournalWater Research
Issue number13
Early online date18 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2013


  • Calcium
  • Forward osmosis
  • Fouling
  • Humic acid
  • Natural organic matter
  • Pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Ecological Modelling

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