Pore wetting in membrane distillation treatment of municipal wastewater desalination brine and its mitigation by foam fractionation

Kimya Rajwade, Ana C. Barrios, Sergi Garcia-Segura, François Perreault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Reverse Osmosis (RO) desalination is an important step of wastewater reuse as it can remove salts and trace contaminants. However, RO also generates high salinity brines that need to be dealt with. Membrane distillation (MD), a process largely unaffected by salinity, provides a way to treat desalination brines up to high water recovery and has been proposed as a solution for RO brine management. However, pore wetting of membranes in MD is one of the major hurdles that prevents its implementation in wastewater treatment systems, as amphiphilic organic compounds present in wastewater can lead to pore wetting and loss of selectivity over time. The objective of this study was to identify a pre-treatment strategy to prevent wetting in MD treatment of municipal wastewater RO brines. We compared three pre-treatments with different separation or removal mechanisms: foam fractionation, advanced oxidation, and ultrafiltration. We evaluated membrane wetting by measuring the change in conductivity in the distillate and identified the most effective pre-treatment to prevent wetting in MD. The results show that wetting is prevented by pre-treating the brine with foam fractionation. The effectiveness of foam fractionation as a wetting control strategy was confirmed for a high wetting propensity synthetic water using sodium dodecyl sulfate as a model wetting compound. Finally, the effect of the pre-treatments on the desalination brine was evaluated to understand the nature of the compounds removed by each treatment. The results of this study will help implement MD as a treatment process for desalination brines in municipal wastewater reuse systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127214
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Brine
  • Desalination
  • Membrane distillation
  • Wastewater
  • Wetting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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