Renewable energy powered membrane technology: Impact of pH and ionic strength on fluoride and natural organic matter removal

Isaac Owusu-Agyeman, Junjie Shen, Andrea Iris Schäfer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)


Real water pH and ionic strength vary greatly, which influences the performance of membrane processes such as nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO). Systematic variation of pH (3 − 12) and ionic strength (2–10 g/L as total dissolved solids (TDS)) was undertaken with a real Tanzanian water to investigate how water quality affects retention mechanisms of fluoride (F) and natural organic matter (NOM). An autonomous solar powered NF/RO system driven by a solar array simulator was supplied with constant power from a generator. An open NF (NF270) and a brackish water RO (BW30) membrane were used. A surface water with a very high F (59.7 mg/L) and NOM (110 mgC/L) was used. Retention of F by NF270 was < 20% at pH < 6, increased to 40% at pH 6, and 60–70% at pH 7–12, indicating a dominance of charge repulsion while being ineffective in meeting the guideline of 1.5 mg/L. Increase in ionic strength led to a significant decline in retention of F (from 70 to 50%) and electrical conductivity (from 60 to 10%) by NF270, presumably due to charge screening. In contrast, BW30 retained about 50% of F at pH 3, > 80% at pH 4, and about 99% at pH > 5, due to the smaller pore size and hence a more dominant size exclusion. In consequence, only little impact of ionic strength increase was observed for BW30. The concentration of NOM in permeates of both NF270 and BW30 were typically < 2 mg/L. This was not affected by pH or ionic strength due to the fact that the bulk of NOM was rejected by both membranes through size exclusion. The research is carried out in the context of providing safe drinking water for rural and remote communities where infrastructure is lacking, and water quality varies significantly. While other studies focus on energy fluctuations, this research emphasises on feed water quality that affects system performance and may alter due to a number of environmental factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-147
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date23 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2018


  • Fluoride
  • Ionic strength
  • Nanofiltration
  • Natural organic matter
  • pH
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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